Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t the only elected official in California being targeted with a shutdown-related recall.
A newly formed California group is taking on school board members who balk at reopening for in-person learning, starting with a San Diego County trustee who compared requiring teachers to return to the classroom to slavery.
Charda Bell-Fontenot, vice president of the La Mesa-Spring Valley Schools board of education, blasted the push to set a date for classroom instruction, blaming “white supremacist ideology,” accusing other board members of “white privilege,” and making the “slavery” connection.
“I don’t want to be a part of forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to do,” Ms. Bell-Fontenot said during the Feb. 23 Zoom board meeting. “That’s what slavery is.”
Last week, conservative activist Carl DeMaio and frustrated parents responded by launching a recall effort against Ms. Bell-Fontenot, seeking to gather about 13,700 valid signatures in 120 days to qualify the measure for the ballot.
“She not only voted to keep schools closed in her district, she added insult to injury by dismissing the parents, viciously attacking colleagues and district staff, and then of course claiming that to reopen schools is an act of White supremacy, that it’s akin to slavery,” said Mr. DeMaio, founder of Reform California.
The drive to remove Ms. Bell-Fontenot comes as the inaugural campaign of School Board Recall, a Reform California project that seeks to convince districts to reopen pandemic-shuttered classrooms by bouncing a few board members.
Mr. DeMaio, a radio talk-show host and former San Diego city councilmember, likened the approach to lions targeting the weakest gazelle in the herd, a tactic he used in the successful 2018 recall of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman, which deprived Democrats of their legislative supermajority.
“There’s no way for us to recall every bad politician in California that’s voting to keep schools closed,” Mr. DeMaio said. “But by pursuing the gazelle strategy, we can knock a few off and send the message that if you don’t reopen the schools and get our kids back to normal, we will go after you.”
Certainly, Ms. Bell-Fontenot appears vulnerable. Her comments, which were widely reported, prompted a backlash from parents and community members, including a Change.org petition calling for her resignation that gained 4,495 signatures before closing.
Meanwhile, Ms. Bell-Fontenot has made it clear she won’t go down without a fight, bringing on high-profile San Diego attorney Cory Briggs, who called the recall effort “an example of racism married to cancel culture.”
“My client was asked for her opinion and then said in public what many of her constituents of color and lower incomes are saying amongst themselves,” Mr. Briggs said in an email. “In the end, she was on the losing side of the 4-1 vote. So when the White mob tries to recall a Black elected official for expressing an opinion that her own constituents share, after the mob got its way on the policy decision, you’re witnessing a racist cancel culture on full display.”
The board voted to reopen schools for all grade levels on a hybrid schedule combining in-person with remote learning starting April 19.
Mr. Briggs said that Ms. Bell-Fontenot “supports re-opening schools ASAP as long as all students are equally protected,” and confirmed that she has received threats, which he said have been turned over to local and federal law enforcement.
School board president Rebecca McRae denounced the threats, saying, “I can say without hesitation that the district unequivocally rejects and condemns racist, hateful, or threatening comments aimed at the vice president or anyone else in our community.”
Ms. McRae declined to comment on the recall and resignation calls, but said that Ms. Bell-Fontenot “made remarks that we felt were demeaning to her fellow board members.”
“As the board president, my concern was not with the issues raised, but rather with the tenor of the discussion which was inconsistent with the board‘s adopted norms and commitment to mutual respect,” Ms. McRae said. “As a school district, we believe that issues of race and equity are extremely important, which is why it is so important that we work together as a governance team to ensure we are meeting the needs of all students and are actively combating the reality of systemic racism.”
More school board recalls may soon follow, said Mr. DeMaio, given that “we have been inundated since we put up the website last week.”
“All around the state of California, people are contacting us, saying, oh, can you make ours next?” he said. “We’re looking at discussions with different neighborhood groups, parent groups, because there has to be enough local support as well. We have enough bandwidth to do multiple recalls at the same time with our statewide volunteer network.”
The next step in the recall is to serve Ms. Bell-Fontenot, he said, after which she has seven days to issue a 200-word response, which will appear on the petitions.
“The filing of the recall case against her has already been drafted, ready to go. We serve her, she gets to respond, then we print up our petitions and roll,” Mr. DeMaio said. “It’s step-by-step, and we’ll be out there with our petitions in front of stores soon.”