By the Daily Post staff
Parents in four South Bay school districts are trying to recall board members who they claim were slow to reopen schools after the worst of the Covid pandemic ended.
No recalls have been proposed in Palo Alto, where the district was one of the first to reopen schools.
But parents farther south have filed paperwork to recall eight school board members in four districts: Cupertino, Sunnyvale, the Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School District and the Fremont Union High School District, which serves parts of San Jose, Los Altos, Saratoga and Santa Clara.
The number of proposed recalls is unusual. Normally the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters only gets one or two recall petitions a year.
Parents in Los Gatos and Saratoga have filed notices to recall four high school board members there — Peter Hertan, David Guidry, Cynthia Chang and Theresa Bond.
The notices for the four say the same thing — that the parents were angered over a January school board meeting when the reopening of schools wasn’t on the agenda.
“They met for hours, giving staff spotlight awards and talking about paving a parking lot,” the notices said. “And when the restrictions on schools were lifted by the county, and scientific authorities urged schools to open, and when our local middle schools were opened, our high schools remained closed.”
The notices said the board members ignored pleas from the community. “They blamed their failure on the teachers’ union and the county. But their failure was their own.”
Cynthia Chang, one of the board members targeted for recall, responded to the recall petition by writing, “As we’ve faced unprecedented challenges of Covid-19, the district had to change its delivery method of instruction to assure the health and safety of students and staff. In making these decisions, we had to follow the ever-changing guidelines and restrictions regarding school reopening.”
Theresa Bond, another Los Gatos Saratoga board member, disputed the recallers, saying that the district’s response to Covid has been discussed at every public board meeting.
“The board’s focus is on emergency actions to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, and this has guided our phased plan to reopen campuses,” Bond wrote in her answer, filed March 25. “As people get vaccinated and numbers decline, our schools will once again be the vibrant learning centers our children deserve.”
Complaints about teacher unions
A complaint about schools reopening too slowly was also at the heart of the recall notice for Lorien Cunningham, a board member in the Cupertino Union School District, which includes part of Los Altos.
“CUSD parents deserve a board member who can push back on the unions, follow health guidelines, force the hard discussions, make decisions, challenge the superintendent and board when necessary and always fight for all children first,” said the notice to recall, signed by organizer Valentin Ryabov and nine others on March 18.
In response, Cunningham wrote that “our highest-needs students” began returning to classrooms in November, and that she supported a plan to bring back all students for in-person instruction starting April 5.
Cunningham also said that the county registrar will charge the school district about $1 million to put the recall on the ballot.
“As a CUSD parent, I share everyone’s frustration about California’s lack of a comprehensive school reopening plan, but penalizing our students with an expensive recall is not the answer.”
Others facing a possible recall are Bridget Watson and Michelle Maginot in the Sunnyvale School District and Bill Wilson in the Fremont Union High School District.
How the recall process works
To begin a recall, residents need to circulate a “notice of intention to circulate recall petition” giving the reasons why they want the office holder removed. Once they get 10 signatures, they submit the notice to the Registrar of Voters in San Jose.
The Registrar will review the notice and, once approved, the recallers will have between 120 and 160 days to obtain the signatures of 15% of the registered voters in their school district. The number of days is based on the size of the district, with recallers in Cupertino and Fremont getting 160 days and 120 in the other two districts.
So far, the Registrar has approved notices to recall Cunningham in Cupertino and Wilson in the Fremont Union High School District. The other six notices are pending.
Thousands of signatures still needed
To put the recall of Cunningham on the ballot, petitioners will need 11,658 signatures. To force recalls in the Los Gatos Saratoga district, 7,408 signatures will be necessary for each candidate. In Sunnyvale, the number of signatures needed is 7,916, and 11,730 in the Fremont Union High School District.
If the recallers are successful, then a date will be set for the election.