“Seventy-two days, no action.”
That’s what signs held up at Wednesday’s Fresno Unified school board meeting stated, noting how long it’s been since trustees were officially asked to discipline president Brooke Ashjian for his controversial LGBT comments.
“Why are the children of Fresno Unified held to a higher standard than the board president?” parent Tonya Stokes asked the board, pointing to district anti-bullying policies. “Bullies don’t need any more encouragement.”
Stokes asked the board to strip Ashjian of his position and end his “term of tyranny,” listing the names of more than 20 district students who have been bullied for their sexual orientation. That included Logann Pruneda, of Bullard High, who was allegedly pelted with juice boxes and called gay slurs last month.
He could be replaced as president on Dec. 13, at the board’s annual organizational meeting, but parents and advocates who have been calling for his resignation say that’s not enough.
Fresno Unified trustees have condemned Ashjian’s comments, but have given no sign that they will take a vote to demote or censure him. The board put a discussion item regarding the matter on a board meeting agenda last month, but no action item.
Bernadette Planting asked the board to remove Ashjian as president on Wednesday, telling the story of her friend who hanged himself when they were teenagers because he was bullied for being gay.
“I wasn’t old enough or wise enough then, but I vowed when he died to never keep my mouth shut again when I heard hate spouting from someone,” she said. “I’m not sure you understand the impression you’re making.”
In his statements about newly state-mandated sex education, which includes LGBT lessons, Ashjian urged parents to teach Christian values and said of students, “if you start telling them that LGBT is OK and that it’s a way of life, well maybe you just swayed the kid to go that way.”
Jennifer Blackman, a mother of a lesbian student, called those comments “shameful and disgraceful” and urged other trustees to make a statement by removing Ashjian before the annual organizational meeting.
“They were not molded to be LGBTQ by sex ed classes. They were born that way. Mr. Ashjian, it is absolutely OK to be that way,” Blackman said Wednesday. “We’re not trying to remove Christian beliefs …. We are simply asking that our kids’ inherent worth and dignity be respected.”
Jerrold Westbrooks, who has had several children go through Fresno Unified, voiced his support for Ashjian, and his problems with LGBT-inclusive sex education, saying the district needs to do more to let parents know about their ability to opt out of the lessons.
“It’s OK for you to be a homosexual, that’s your business,” Westbrooks said. “But you will not – I said you will not – teach my children that mess. It’s not going to happen.”