The Grade Blog

Tuesday, Aug 13 2013 10:05 PM

Angry parents storm Panama-Buena Vista meeting over transgender law, vendor contract

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Stockdale Estates homeowner Michael Hansen, left, who built a wall on his property shutting off a walkway between the Stockdale- Amberton neighborhoods, and Amberton resident Bryan Bell, who wants the wall removed, talk following a meeting at the Panama-Buena Vista Union School board meeting where supporters of both sides turned out.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    It was standing room only at the Panama-Buena Vista Union School Board meeting where residents turnout to speak on two separate topics, the recent bill signed into law regarding transgender students and the wall separating the Stockdale Estates and Amberton neighborhoods. Michael Hansen, front center, is the homeowner who built the wall shutting off the walkway between the two neighborhoods.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Amanda Webster was one of several people who spoke against the recent bill that was signed into law allowing transgender students to decide, among other things, what bathroom they use and what sports team to play on.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

More than 100 people crowded into the normally quiet bimonthly meeting of the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District's board meeting Tuesday -- the first since Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law mandating that public schools allow transgendered students to use restrooms and play on sex-segregated sports teams with the gender they identify with -- and they made their voices heard.

Although the law doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, angry parents demanded to know where board members stood on the controversial new law, and whether the district planned to fight it.

"This is opening up a can of worms," said David Mongold, a father of seven. "I really would like to know where each one of you stands on this. This is something that is so unbelievable. Can we hear this tonight?"

The matter was not on Tuesday night's agenda. Board of Trustees President Keith Wolaridge said simply, "This is not the forum."

Mongold shouted back, "Why isn't it?"

Parent Chase Baker said he didn't think the new law would protect transgendered students.

"Visciousness, bullying, I really believe in my heart that this new law is going to promote that, not discourage it," he said.

Miranda Green lamented that she didn't know how to explain to her 5- and 8-year-old children what transgendered even was.

Making sweeping accommodations for a small minority should not force parents into conversations with small children that are "very confusing," she said.

Amanda Webster, who has two children, said implementing the law would put child safety at risk.

"I strongly believe there will be cases of rape," she said. "There already are."

If a child is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, that's their business, Webster said. "I am a mom. How I raise my kids is my business. It's not a school's place to teach my children about transgendered (people)," Webster said.

She added that she would home school her children before she would allow them to attend school in such an environment.

Superintendent Kevin Silberberg said the board had limited options for responding to the law, including passing a resolution, or telling the state that the law would be "very difficult to implement in our community."

But he cautioned the board to remember that as a public school, it is responsible for "every student in the district...every student."

No one at the meeting spoke in support of AB 1266, which was signed into law Monday, but LGBT groups have praised it as critical protection for vulnerable students.

"We know from decades of experience and research that students learn best when they feel safe and included at school," the Human Rights Campaign wrote on a blog.

Panama isn't the only district worrying about the new law. Kern High School District Trustee Mike Williams posted on Facebook that parents should home school their children or send them to private school, and urged people to call the governnor's office to voice their opposition.

Some of the angry parents at Panama's meeting weren't there to speak on the transgender rights law.

Many were part of an ongoing campaign to demolish a wall erected between the southwest Bakersfield neighborhoods of Amberton and Stockdale Estates.

The wall, erected by a homeowner on his own property on June 14, blocks an access point previously used by a generation of children to walk to Stockdale Elementary and Actis Junior High, avoiding the busier major streets surrounding the two neighborhoods.

It turns out the homeowner, Michael Hansen, works for Automated Data Services, or ADS, a vendor that does business with the district providing backup data storage.

Several speakers Tuesday asked the district to terminate that contract to put pressure on Hansen to take down the wall.

"Use that special relationship to communicate with Mr. Hansen," said Bryan Bell. "Let him know the damage that he is doing to the community that he serves through you."

Attorneys for Hansen and ADS co-owner John Buckley said the wall dispute was a private matter unrelated to the district's contract with the company.

"The attempt to negate contractual relations is somewhat unseemly, and I believe it sets a very bad precedent," said ADS attorney Murray Tragish. "I think it's somewhat dangerous."

The district recently announced that it has added a third bus stop to carry students cut off by the wall to Stockdale Elementary School, but mother Keri Mikkelsen said that would not address safety concerns. Children who participate in after-school activities such as sports can't ride the bus, she said, and some children may accidentally miss the bus.

"God help any of you...if one child, one child is hurt or killed. God help you," she said.

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