Insults didn’t deter student rep to Chino Valley Unified school board – San Bernardino Sun

Esther Kim wasn’t naïve when she was named student representative to the Chino Valley Unified school board, whose brand is to wage culture-war battles over sex ed, gay marriage, the Bible, prayer, masking and vaccinations.

“I did Google searches. They helped me out a lot,” Esther tells me with a laugh. “I knew what I was getting into.”

An early test came in November when the board’s two religious conservatives sought to limit the rights of transgender students. Esther mobilized students via Instagram to speak at the meeting and collected advance testimony from more than 160. The motion failed. It was a win for students, but at an emotional price.

“A lot of hurtful words were thrown around at that meeting,” Esther recalls. “As board members, we do have the responsibility to treat our students with respect.”

Even that experience may not have prepared her for what happened last month.

At the May 5 meeting, the same two board members, James Na and Andrew Cruz, asked their colleagues to pass a resolution opposing AB 2223, which would remove the potential for criminal liability in abortions, miscarriages and other fetal deaths.

Na said taking a stance was within the board’s purview because a lower birth rate would mean declining enrollment for the district.

There was a long, contentious public-comment period over the symbolic resolution against abortion. Then Esther, who sits on the dais with other board members but casts only advisory votes, pushed back.

She said that while she recognizes the passion over the issue of abortion, a school board meeting isn’t the right venue to debate it and the argument about enrollment was “utter nonsense.”

She urged the board to focus on “pressing issues that directly affect our students,” not on “these nonsensical resolutions that pop up every few meetings.”

Some parents in the audience booed the 17-year-old.

“As my term is coming to an end, I want to thank — ” she began, before she was drowned out by parents cheering and applauding derisively. Board President Christina Gagnier gaveled them down.

Then Na publicly questioned whether Esther’s parents were raising her properly.

“This is a perfect example of why you need to talk to your children, OK?” Na told the audience. “This is an opportunity for us to see and hear what happens when you leave them alone with the wrong people.”

Na said Esther had been “brainwashed” and concluded: “You can tell there’s a lack of parental involvement.”

Board member Joe Shaffer told Na that “it’s inappropriate for you as a sitting board member to question her family values and the way she was raised and her interactions with her parents.” The abortion motion by Na and Cruz failed 3-2, with Shaffer, Gagnier and Don Bridge against it and Esther casting a symbolic vote against it as well.

The May 19 meeting was hot too, but let me come back to that.

I arrange to meet Esther on Thursday. Her mother drives her to our appointment at the headquarters for the 27,000-student school district and waits in the minivan. Esther and I sit at a picnic table in the courtyard.

I tell Esther that her comments May 5 were blunt, particularly the part about “utter nonsense.” She chuckles.

“I wanted to be a little more direct since I was at the end of my term,” she explains. Because she is diligent about seeking out campus opinions, she says, “I knew our students disapproved of the resolution, so I was obligated to represent their views.”

Of the audience reaction, she says: “I respect that those parents disagree with me.”

She says she respects Mr. Na’s opinions — she refers to adults by their title and last name — and knows that he means well. Like her, he is Korean-American.

What about his criticism of her parents?

“I think that was an inappropriate thing for him to say,” Esther says calmly. “We want to preserve civil discourse.”

What was her parents’ reaction?

“They were angry. I think that’s every parents’ reaction to it,” Esther says. “They sent an email to the board.”

Na brought up the email at the May 19 meeting, saying Esther’s parents had explained her hard work and study habits and their pride in her.

“I was really happy her parents are involved,” Na said, overlooking that their letter was a response to his criticism. He said he had given her “flowers and a card” and said twice that “if I hurt her feelings, I would apologize to her 100,000 times right now.”

“Then do it,” a visibly angry Shaffer said. In a moment bizarre even by Chino Valley Unified standards, when Shaffer told Na “to stand up and be a man,” Na replied disdainfully: “OK, don’t speak like a woman.”

Shaffer, fed up, walked out. Na turned toward Esther on the dais and beckoned her three times. As she walked toward him, he stood and extended his arms for a hug. He held her for eight seconds.

Esther tells me Thursday: “He initiated it. He apologized for hurting my feelings.” She doesn’t want to discuss it further.

I have to say, I’m not easily shocked by anything that goes on at Chino Valley Unified meetings, having sat through or read about some astonishing stuff over the years. But watching these two meetings on video, my mouth fell open repeatedly.

Esther Kim stands in front of Chino Hills High in November 2021. The junior, who was the student rep to the school board, was rallying students to oppose a move to limit transgender rights on campuses. The school board rejected the proposal 3-2. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Esther, who just finished her junior year at Chino Hills High, has grown up in her native Korea, in New York and since 2015 in Chino Hills. Her father works for a global investment firm; her mother was an attorney but is now raising Esther and her younger brother.

Esther got involved in youth advocacy during her freshman year when she attended a summer camp by the nonprofit, youth-focused California Association of Student Councils.

Esther lobbied legislators for AB 367, which requires schools serving grades 6-12 to stock restrooms with free menstrual products and which was signed into law last October.

“That was a student-generated bill from our organization,” she marvels.

She is now the organization’s governmental affairs policy director and says cheerfully, “I find government fascinating.”

She was chosen by her school’s Associated Student Body to be its representative to the school board, a position that rotates annually among the district’s high schools.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *