A Divisive GUSD Meeting

Photo by Mary O’KEEFE


The Glendale Unified School District board meeting on Tuesday reflected the division that can be found throughout the country. Some parents, and community members, attended the meeting because they were concerned about their children being “indoctrinated” – though it was not clear what they were being indoctrinated into. However, the basis of the concerns of the parents focused on transgender students and the way the district approaches that issue.

The foundation for this eruption of concern came from a previous board meeting when, during public comment, a parent of children who are not yet old enough to attend GUSD schools voiced his concern about a six-year-old video that had been made by Dr. Kelly King, assistant superintendent. The video covered the issues of transgender and gender affirmation, and how the district places the child’s safety at the forefront. The parent who spoke at the previous meeting repeated King’s comments, many taken out of context, that made it appear that parents would not be part of the decision-making process on this issue for their child. The parents who attended Tuesday’s meeting seemed genuinely concerned about their children’s well-being – though the narrative was at times confusing. There was also vitriolic dialogue that was directed at the board, at those who spoke in favor of the district and, specifically, as in the previous meeting, at King.

One parent who spoke said she didn’t know one parent who had sent hate or threatening emails to King; however, GUSD confirmed that King has received numerous hate-filled and threatening emails – all of which has been shared with the Glendale police who were a visible presence at Tuesday’s meeting.

Another incident that occurred at the meeting was when a teacher, who identified as gay but spoke against GUSD policy, held up an anti-Semitic symbol. This upset many in the audience but was even more poignant because Tuesday was Yom HaShoah, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

At the end of the meeting Superintendent Dr. Vivian Ekchian was obviously affected by the raucous meeting.

“It breaks my heart when I see the audience that I saw earlier today,” she said. “The intent that we have as a community is to bring our kids into an environment where they can learn, without hesitation, without pressure, without the fear of not being accepted for who they are. Many of us, in different settings, have felt not accepted and [that has] not helped us do our best. Our intent has always been to offer an environment where every child can do their best and, as adults, we have an obligation to find ways to work with each other so that the burden is not on our students to feel there is separation or division amongst our community on various topics. I think there are a number of misunderstandings. [I] think there are individuals who take advantage of pieces of information, and then post it widely into the larger world that creates misunderstandings that harm our children. We are [in education] for the sake of our kids so that they can be successful, and I appreciate positive parental involvement. Having been a parent for a very long time, I understand when parents say ‘Don’t mess with my kids’ – I get it. I have a child, I love my child more than anything else in this world … But the reality is there are so many misunderstandings, or miscommunication, put out there that divide this community that we have to fight. We have to come together and find a way to really speak the truth, and speak to advocacy for all children, and [clarify] policies that are misunderstood.”

She added that if the district’s leadership decisions are in question parents should to go to their principals or to the district.

“Don’t make any assumptions that there is ill intent or that there is any kind of intent to influence children wrongly that you are unaware of,” she said.

She shared that she is grateful to be GUSD’s superintendent but this has been the hardest job she has ever hard.

“Part of it is because [of] this super-complicated world right now where trust has been diminished in our community and everything is second guessing and everyone thinks there’s an agenda – some other agenda than protecting our children. So my request for the community and for everyone [who] participates in this dialogue is: let’s please try hard to understand each other for the sake of our students so that we can advocate for their rights; they are minors. We are here as adults and we have an obligation to create a better world.”