The latest school board hot mic moment happened in southern California in the La Mesa-Spring Valley district which is east of San Diego. The board was meeting Tuesday to discuss a date for reopening but the board’s Vice President, Chardá Bell-Fontenot, got into a disagreement with most of the rest of the board, comparing asking teachers to return to classrooms to slavery. What seems to have kicked off the argument was one school board member said, “We have to give the teachers, we have to give the students, the parents a date.”
“We don’t have to give anybody any date,” Bell-Fontenot replied. She added, “I don’t know where you’re getting information or who is telling you that we have to make a decision today, but that is not how this works.”
After a jump cut in the video school board member Sarah Rhiley said “70 to 80 percent” of parents have indicated they are ready to have kids return to school. Bell-Fontenot replied, “The 70 and 80%, who are they? I would like to know geographically from which school sites, which language group, and how they conducted this feedback.” She said without that information she could not make a decision about reopening: “I can’t make one and I will not make one.”
“You’re welcome to abstain I believe, right?” Rhiley responded.
“There’s no reason to be nasty to me,” Bell-Fontenot said, though at this point she’s the only one who sounds worked up in this conversation.
After another jump cut board clerk Megan Epperson said the issue could be presented for a vote and “if you wish to vote no, you are more than welcome to.”
Bell-Fontenot interjected that she knew what she could do but she said what the board was doing was “wrong.” After another cut in the video, Bell-Fontenot said the plan seemed like white supremacist ideology to her: “So how are we forcing what seems like a very white supremacist ideology to force people to comply with, you know, and conform…So I don’t want to be a part of forcing anybody to do anything they don’t want to do. That’s what slavery is. I’m not going to be a part of it.” She added that
After a couple more jump cuts school superintendent David Feliciano said he took “great offense” to the suggestion made by Bell-Fontenot that no one in the meeting knew what they were talking about. Bell-Fontenot dodged and suggested she wasn’t talking about him but Feliciano said he was speaking for other board members who were being dismissed. “Well don’t say that you can speak for others, that’s not appropriate,” Bell-Fontenot said.
Board president Rebecca McRae tried to get control of the meeting but Bell-Fontenot just started talking over her saying that the superintendent has disrespected her. When McRae suggested that could be a private conversation, Bell-Fontenot replied, “Racism doesn’t need to be private,” implying that the superintendent was being racist toward her.
A couple notes about the video below. First, it’s obviously been edited by the person who posted it. In fact, Bell-Fontenot’s attorney has already claimed her statements were taken out of context. Um, maybe but I think it’s pretty clear where she was coming from in this five minute clip. But if you want you can listen to the full unedited audio here. The argument starts around one hour and ten minutes into the clip.
Bell-Fontenot herself never appears on screen, though a yellow message does appear at the top of the screen identifying her when she is speaking. Obviously her camera was off. Finally, there is someone talking in the room with whoever is filming this. Right at the 2:40 mark after Bell-Fontenot’s argument with superintendent Feliciano, you can hear a man whispering “That’s the superintendent” or something to that effect.
Speaking of which, the superintendent has already released a statement saying Bell-Fontenot’s behavior was inappropriate:
“She behaved in a manner the Board does not condone, nor did her behavior represent our values and our commitments to our students, community, and to each other. We have received many emails and calls of great concern from our families and community members. While we were also disappointed and offended by Trustee Fontenot’s behavior, we were saddened to learn that she has received hateful, racist, and threatening communications as a result.”
The school board also released a statement critical of Bell-Fontenot:
“At the district’s special board meeting on Tuesday (2/23), Trustee, Charda Bell-Fontenot, behaved in a manner the Board does not condone, nor did her behavior represent our values and our commitments to our students, community, and to each other. We have received many emails and calls of great concern from our families and community members. While we were also disappointed and offended by Trustee Fontenot’s behavior, we were saddened to learn that she has received hateful, racist, and threatening communications as a result. The school district will continue to forward all hate mail and threatening communications to law enforcement. We want to make it very clear that La Mesa-Spring Valley does not condone any behavior that disparages or bullies anyone. We strongly condemn behavior that is racist, discriminatory or threatens violence of any kind.”
So it sounds like there has been some hate mail over this and because of that Bell-Fontenot is now being treated as a victim despite her own obnoxious behavior. The good news here is that the board went ahead an voted to reopen classrooms on April 19, so Bell-Fontenot didn’t get her way.
Finally, here’s a local news report about the story: