Metro Weekly

Voters Remove School Board Members Who Pushed Anti-LGBTQ Policies

Residents of Orange, California, ousted two school board members who championed right-wing and anti-LGBTQ policies in a recall election.

education, classroom, teacher, desks
School classroom – Photo: Kohji Asakawa, via Pixabay.

Voters in Orange, California, successfully recalled two school board members accused of pushing anti-LGBTQ policies, including one that “outs” transgender students to their parents.

Madison Miner and Rick Ledesma, the former board president, lost recall elections for the Republican-leaning Trustee Area 4 and the Democratic-leaning Trustee Area 7, respectively.

Organizers behind the recall elections claimed that the two board members had pushed an aggressive, right-wing culture war during their time on the board.

While on the board, Ledesma and Miner championed a “parents’ bill of rights” that allows parents to review curriculum and have their opinions considered by school district leaders. Critics say the bill is an attempt to ferret out books, lessons, teaching plans, or topics with which they personally disagreed. 

The conservative-leaning school board also passed a ban on Pride flags and other non-governmental flags on school property, and a policy requiring schools to notify parents if their children ask to use a different name, pronouns, or gender than the one assigned to them at birth. Critics say those policies were attempts to erase LGBTQ visibility or expressions of gender nonconformity.

Recall organizers argued that there were other reasons besides their opposition to LGBTQ rights to recall Miner and Ledesma, noting that the school board fired the past superintendent — who was considered qualified, competent, and beloved by many parents, as reported by EdSource — without cause, and placed the assistant superintendent of education on paid administrative leave pending an “academic audit.”

No specific explanation was given for those actions, although they were similar to moves made by other school boards in districts where right-wing candidates enjoyed success in the 2022 elections, with many of those newer officials attempting to replace existing administrators and officials with their own preferred — and often ideologically-sympathetic — candidates. 

It was speculated that the push for removing the superintendent was motivated by Miner’s narrow victory over a 22-year incumbent, resulting in a conservative majority that would champion many of the issues that were central to Miner’s campaign.

She had particularly trumpeted the need for deference to parents in determining curriculum content, and expressed anger about school closures and masking policies, as well as concerns about discussions regarding race, racism, and so-called “critical race theory” in schools, according to EdSource

Recall organizers accused the conservative board of spending significant money to cover the cost of the former superintendent’s severance package while paying for the district’s interim superintendent’s lodging and airline flights as he commuted between Idaho and California.

They also alleged the board allowed a privately-run charter school to rent classrooms at half the rent charged to other schools, while giving another charter school the option to mortgage school district property — actions that were part of a larger push for greater school privatization.

“Voters want school boards that are looking out for their best interest and not doing anything that is a personal agenda or personal benefit,” Darshan Smaaladen, one of the co-chairs of the recall effort, told CBS News. “I think both of those things were in play with our recall. And having the voters support us really validated what we were feeling as parents.”

School Board Trustee Kris Erickson, one of the board’s three more liberal-leaning members, told the Los Angeles Times that the past 14 months have been “extremely challenging and chaotic,” accusing the recalled members of pushing a political agenda while demonizing parents and teachers who disagreed with them.

The board must now either appoint replacements for Miner and Ledesma, or call for special elections to their seats.

If the board chooses to appoint replacements, they’re required to advertise the seats in local media to solicit applications or nominations. They must then interview the candidates at a public meeting and select the replacements by a majority vote of the remaining five school board trustees.

Those replacements would hold office until the November election when voters could select replacements for the remainder of Miner and Ledesma’s unfinished terms, which end in 2026. Those races would appear on the ballot alongside race for three other school board seats featuring candidates seeking a full four-year term.

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