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After battles over the Pledge, a humanist school board member has resigned
Dr. Tabia Lee wanted to make her California school board more inclusive and welcoming. After years of personal attacks, she's stepping down.
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In November of 2020, Dr. Tabia Lee was elected to a four-year term serving on the board of the Center Joint Unified School District in Antelope, California. It was a close race; Lee defeated an incumbent candidate by about 50 votes out of over 15,000 cast.
Last night, however, she announced her resignation.
In a letter that has not yet been made public by the school board, Lee, who’s openly humanist, explained her reasons for wanting to step down. The biggest problem overall is that the district, she says, doesn’t do enough to care for vulnerable, marginalized members of the community. They’ll pay lip service to those students, but they won’t take the necessary actions to create a welcoming environment for everyone.
For example, when she joined the board, she realized they said the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings. There are a host of reasons some people may not want to say it, ranging from the declaration that we’re a nation “under God” to the false belief that we truly have “liberty and justice for all” to the idea that pledging allegiance to a flag is like worshiping a false idol.
Lee suggested they stop saying the Pledge at meetings due to the diversity of the community, partly because there was pressure on attendees to say it. That suggestion didn’t get anywhere, but Lee was eventually able to get the board to include a “Pledge of Allegiance Inclusion Statement” that is read at the beginning of meetings.
In recognition of free speech, we welcome all and would like to note that saying the pledge of allegiance is not a requirement to participate in the business of this public board. If you choose not to say the pledge you are most welcome here as an equal participant in the business of this board.
It’s a perfectly harmless reminder that no one has to participate in the religious, pseudo-patriotic tradition. In fact, since adopting that statement, more students attending those meetings have remained seated during the Pledge, something that created a problem at the January meeting when board member Nancy Anderson complained about how “none of the students used to sit for the pledge”… as if forcing them to stand was the better option.
Now, Lee writes, the board is planning to get rid of the inclusion statement altogether so students won’t even be informed of their rights.
It’s not just about the Pledge, though. In her letter, she also points out that Anderson, her fellow board member, was not censured despite “making racist and homophobic comments at multiple open session meetings—something that constituents actually made documented written and verbal complaints about.”
Beyond that, she writes, the board repeatedly treated her as an outsider and ignored her suggestions, choosing to protect their seats rather than do the work required of a competent, proactive school board. They outright rejected her suggestion to offer Heritage months to honor “historically underrepresented and marginalized groups.” They rejected her suggestion to adopt term limits for board members. They also downplayed, if not ignored, Black History Month.
Then there was the new residency requirement, forcing board members to prove they live in the district. Lee lives in the district, but she didn’t want to comply with the residency requirement on principle. (In my mind, it’s like demanding Barack Obama produce his birth certificate in order to “prove” he’s American.) Because she refused to comply, though, the board censured her.
Making matters worse, Lee told me yesterday that she had to deal with personal attacks, including comments made about her family. At some point, the desire to effect meaningful change was outweighed by the personal toll the board was taking on her mental health.
So, rather than stick around and be a punching bag for the other board members, she opted to step down:
The behaviors of the Board Majority members including newcomer Trustee [Howard] Ballin are unprofessional, unethical, and wholly distracting from increasing cultural inclusion and improving student achievement in this District. I am hopeful that my resignation will allow the Board Majority to stop focusing on the bogeyman they have made of me and instead provide the space they need to face themselves and the nightmares they have created by their lack of leadership and meaningful actions toward our purported priorities.
… we need leadership that is committed to taking the research-based steps to improve burgeoning student achievement and promote cultural inclusion so that Center Joint Unified School District can transcend its commitment to monoculturalism, homophobia, and racism…
Lee told me she did everything she could to try and make the district a better, safer place for students—especially the ones who don’t always have advocates in positions of power—but she was outnumbered at every turn. She wants people to watch what happens after she leaves. She predicted the board would continue their “dog and pony shows” regarding the district’s fiscal situation but they wouldn’t take any meaningful steps on matters of cultural inclusion or equity. “They don’t have an action plan,” she said.
She added in her letter that “my resignation is solely to protect my personal health, safety, and wellbeing from further abuse by toxic individuals and the psychodramas they perform in Open and Closed Session meetings.”
While she was hoping the community would get a chance to read her resignation letter, the current leader of the board refused to include it in the board packet for last night’s meeting.
The letter says her resignation will go into effect on February 28.