Amid a search to fill two school board seats, after a trustee-elect said she would not assume her seat and a sitting trustee who resigned on Nov. 8 over his wife's racist and misogynistic tweets, a change.org petition is now circulating to recall Las Lomitas Elementary School District Trustee John Earnhardt. Parents say his comments in a local newspaper reacting to Mehredith Venverloh's insulting tweets about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris lacked sensitivity and warrant his removal.
An official recall petition would require signatures from a quarter of the district's registered voters in order to move forward.
District parent Marie Summers helped start the online petition, which had 111 signatures as of Wednesday, Nov. 25, afternoon, after Earnhardt declined her request that he step down from the board. The parents took issue with statements he made to the Palo Alto Daily Post, calling Venverloh a "very diligent as a board member and impactful for the district" and noting the "controversy moved quickly because it spread through electronic media and parents are more engaged in the district than in the past" because board meetings are happening over Zoom.
"There is no integrity in saying, 'We got away with all this stuff before because they (families) weren't watching,'" said district parent Brianna Caldwell, one of the petition organizers. "Maybe there is a correlation between more participation and more questions being asked."
Earnhardt declined to comment on the petition, but pointed The Almanac to the Board of Trustees' statement on the district website denouncing the tweets. During last week's school board meeting, Earnhardt told audience members they could find the statement about the incident on the website, while Trustee Dana Nunn told attendees she was "disgusted and deeply sorry for the pain and hurt this has caused in our community."
If a school district trustee is to be recalled, at least 25% of registered voters in the electoral jurisdiction must sign a physical petition for it to go forward for a district of this size, according to state elections rules. There are 8,213 voters registered in the Las Lomitas District, so 2,053 voter signatures would be required for it to be filed with the county and get on a ballot, according to Jim Irizarry, San Mateo County's assistant chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk recorder.
"It would take a lot of work (to get the necessary number of signatures for a recall) but it's a small district and I think it's work worth doing," Caldwell said. "The most important thing is to move forward in taking action that we think is important for minoritized and underrepresented members of our community, as well as ethnically dominant members of our community who won't grow or learn if things don't change. We see very clearly that Earnhardt serves as a component of systemic racism, and I don't think it's right to look the other way because of what we may have to overcome. It will take some time, but I believe in what we are doing and I believe it is in good faith and with clean hands."
In a year marked by civic unrest and increased awareness of both white privilege and systemic racism in our society, Earnhardt's failure to take an anti-racist stance to Mehridith Venverloh's Twitter posts is unacceptable in this community, the petition states.
"It is very telling that Earnhardt, a former corporate communications executive who is well-versed in handling the media, did not explicitly denounce the hate speech of Mehridith Venverloh," according to the petition. "Instead, John Earnhardt used his privilege to defend Jon Venverloh, and trivialized the gravity of the trauma to our community by minimizing it as a social media controversy."
Summers would like to see board members receive "rigorous" anti-racism training. The petition claims that Earnhardt does not have the understanding, background or training in diversity and inclusivity to represent the district's interests.
"Families (in the district) are very powerful and wealthy in Silicon Valley," Caldwell said. "Their kids are more likely to grow up and be in positions of leadership and take over businesses. To raise children this privileged in a school (district) that turns a blind eye to obvious systemic racism will affect everyone."
Nicky Colaco, a school district resident, said though the area is progressive, district members don't always speak out when they should to help others.
"When rubber meets the road, people don't understand what it means to actively provide allyship," Colaco said.
The school district must also fill the seat left vacant by Jody Leng, who was elected to the board in the Nov. 3 election, who recently informed the district she would not take her seat. Trustees voted to pursue an appointment process. They had to either order a special election or make provisional appointments within 60 days of the vacancies (on or before Jan. 7, 2021 for Venverloh's former seat, and Feb. 9, 2021 for the seat to which Leng was elected), according to the county.