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State superintendent’s ouster from Chino Valley school board meeting unwarranted, expert says | #schoolsaftey

Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond during a staff interview at EdSource.

This story was updated Saturday to include comments from School Board President Sonja Shaw and Carl Cohn, a former member of the California State Board of Education who attended the meeting.

The Chino Valley Unified School District had no legitimate reason under the state open-meeting law to eject Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond from a board meeting Thursday night after he spoke against a policy requiring district officials to notify parents if students come out as transgender at school, an open government expert said.

Thurmond “did nothing whatsoever that warranted a removal from the meeting,” said David Loy, the legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, an open government group, after watching a video of the incident.

The policy Thurmond opposed was later approved by a 4-1 vote.

Thurmond had spoken for his allotted minute Thursday night before the board in San Bernardino County when he was signaled his time was up, a video of the meeting shows.

As he stopped talking and walked away from the lectern, board President Sonja Shaw responded.

“Tony Thurmond, I appreciate you being here tremendously. But here’s the problem. We’re here because of people like you. You’re in Sacramento, proposing things that pervert children,” Shaw said, her voice rising. She also criticized Thurmond for campaigning last year for then-incumbent board member Christina Gagnier, whom Shaw defeated in November.

“You walked for my opponent,” Shaw said. As she spoke, Thurmond walked back to the lectern.

In an interview with EdSource on Friday, Thurmond said he returned to the lectern because Shaw was commenting directly to him, and he thought she wanted to engage in a discussion.

Thurmond called for a “point of order,” but Shaw cut him off saying, “This is not your meeting. You may have a seat because if I did that to you in Sacramento, you would not accept it. Please sit, you are not going to blackmail us.”

Thurmond tried to respond again, and Shaw called for a five-minute break” in the meeting and left the stage where board members were sitting.

Thurmond was quickly encircled by four uniformed district security guards and walked off camera, the video shows, and left the meeting. He said in a tweet later Thursday that Shaw ordered his removal.


The state open-meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, has a provision that allows a public board to remove disruptive people, but they have to be warned first “and given the opportunity to stop disrupting,” Loy said.

The act “is consistent with the First Amendment,” Loy said, in that a public board “cannot shut you down simply because it doesn’t like what you have to say.”

What happened to Thurmond could have a chilling effect on others who may decide not to speak publicly on important issues out of fear of being shouted down or forcibly removed, Loy said,

“I think it’s very troubling that (Shaw) would call out a speaker by name and in effect dress them down, with potentially what could be taken as very insulting language,” Loy said, “I’m not taking a position on the public policy debate, but (Shaw) seemed to express a certain hostility.”

Thurmond said he didn’t sense any danger from the guards or the audience, which cheered loudly as he left.  He said he wanted to get ahead of the guards and went outside to speak to reporters as the meeting resumed.

“I made a decision to move ahead of them removing me and went to address the media,” Thurmond told EdSource. A statement issued by the California Department of Education late Friday said Thurmond was “forcibly escorted out of the meeting by security.”

Shaw, in comments Saturday, said Thurmond was not forcibly removed from the meeting.  District Superintendent Norm Enfield did not respond to messages left for him on Friday. 

Thurmond also told EdSource he was surprised that Shaw brought up his support for Gagnier last year.

“I volunteered for her opponent. What does that have to do with anything? Why would that be brought up at a public meeting? Politics shouldn’t be part of a public meeting. … Once the election is over, we work together,” he said.

Carl Cohn, the former superintendent of Long Beach and San Diego Unified and former California State Board of Education member, Saturday offered an account consistent with the video and described what happened off-camera. He attended the meeting for research he is doing on how the culture wars are affecting school boards.

Cohn said he was about 10 feet away from the podium when the “drama unfolded.”

He said there was “no disruption on Tony Thurmond’s part.” He described how the security guards who were stationed around the room came to the podium and surrounded Thurmond when he had asked for a point of order to respond and Shaw refused. “Tony had a congenial conversation with the security guards,” said Cohn, followed by Thurmond leaving the room with guards following him to the door.

He said he was taken aback by Shaw’s behavior on the dais.

“As a school superintendent for 12-plus years, I’ve seen a lot of board meetings, but I’ve never seen a school board chair, after there’s been a motion, a second and a call for public comment, personally attack the speaker for their remarks,” Cohn said. “She should have gone ahead and called the next speaker after Tony’s time was up, but she chose to personally escalate a confrontation with him.”

Shaw claimed Thurmond “interrupted the meeting calling out from his seat multiple times.”

Cohn said Shaw’s account of what happened “is a complete made-up lie on the part of the board president. There is not a single element of truth in what she is saying,” Cohn said. “Tony never called anything out during the meeting and only returned to the podium after she had attacked him.”

In his public comments, Thurmond said he opposed the board’s policy because it endangers students.

During his brief remarks to the board Thursday, he pointed out that “nearly half of the students who identify as LBGTQ+ have considered suicide” and that “the policy that you consider tonight may fall outside the laws that protect the privacy and safety of our students (and) may also put our students at risk because they live in homes where they cannot be safe.”

The school board ultimately voted to approve the policy, which mirrors failed Assembly Bill 1314. The California Legislative LGBTQ+ Caucus described legislation that aims to “out” transgender and nonbinary students against their will as putting children in potentially life-threatening danger and subjecting them to trauma and violence.

Last week a federal judge in Sacramento struck down a similar policy passed by the Chico Unified School District Board in Butte County.

The state has a legitimate interest “in creating a zone of protection for transgender students and those questioning their gender identity from adverse hostile reactions, including, but not limited to, domestic abuse and bullying,” U.S. District Judge John Mendez wrote in a ruling dismissing a constitutional challenge to state law. Mendez wrote that students have the right to “disclose their gender identity to their parents on their own terms.”

Chino Valley Unified has had a revolving door of ultraconservative school board members who have opposed state laws protecting transgender students’ rights. In 2021, the board attempted to ban transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity but failed after the California Attorney General’s Office warned that the proposal violated the state education code and it was prepared to litigate.

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