After the results of the Nov. 8 election came in, when Conejo Valley Unified School District Board candidate Sandee Everett won her bid for a seat, the new majority elected as president conservative member Mike Dunn, who had spent most of his term in the minority since being initially elected in 2004. Not long after, tensions flared.
The board oversees three pre-schools, 18 elementary schools, seven middle schools and five high schools from Thousand Oaks to Newbury Park. Dunn, in the past, has openly opposed California state policy allowing transgender students to use restrooms for the gender they identify with and has objected to LGBT-friendly language in school textbooks, choosing rather to define marriage as being solely between a man and woman.
At a recent Board meeting, a 2012 policy, the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, also known as the FAIR Education Act, SB-48, which requires that students learn about historical contributions by citizens with disabilities, LGBTQ citizens and other underrepresented peoples, was brought up by students and parents in attendance. Everett asked for more time to review the policy before a vote to adopt the act was taken.
As reported by a Thousand Oaks High School student journalist Joyce Hutchin in the school’s paper, The Lancer, Dunn “slouched and rolled his eyes” after students presented their concerns.
Following the meeting, an email communication between Dunn and a Conejo Valley parent went viral. In the email from a parent who wishes to remain anonymous, the author writes, “It is imperative that you apologize for your behavior at the last Board of [Education] meeting,” adding that “You have no right to base your decision off of your religious beliefs. That is not how America works.”
Dunn wrote in his reply, “Are you advocating a dictatorship? … If I ignore my Christian beliefs what happens to my soul when I die? … Where I spend eternity is far more important to me than being a school board member.”
Dunn concludes that he expects that “the district will comply with the FAIR Act” but that he believes “the community does not want homosexuality, bisexual and transgender taught to 7-year-old children.”
The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford, who attends the board meetings and currently serves as affiliate minister of social justice at Universalist Unitarian Church in Santa Paula, says that she’s been concerned about Dunn’s behavior in the past and is equally concerned regarding his reaction to the FAIR Act.
“His role is not to protect his eternal soul; his responsibility is to take care of the education of all of our students,” said Stapleford. “Those of us who are concerned need not go on the attack; we simply keep speaking our truth in love as much as we can and try to be respectful even when others are not.”
The board will meet again on Jan. 17, but it is not certain whether or not the issue will be on the agenda. School boards are not able to reject adopting the FAIR Act; they are, however, able to pick and choose how to implement it. The author of the original email says that “a lot of people will be there to have their voices heard.” Dunn did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.