By Collin Breaux
As has been the case for some time, the last regular Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting for 2022 on Wednesday, Dec. 14, was essentially a battleground over cultural differences.
Numerous students, parents and residents came out to discuss their perspective on a LGBTQ classroom library maintained by a San Juan Hills High School English teacher named Flint, who prefers to use that single name professionally and they/them pronouns. The library drew the attention of Fox News, which reported that the books contained sexually explicit material.
The media attention, in turn, led to what authorities later determined was a fraudulent bomb threat against San Juan Hills, Flint’s classroom and CUSD. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department found no bombs during a search of the campus. The matter is under investigation by OCSD and the FBI.
Supporters of Flint denounced anti-LGBTQ bigotry and said Flint was a compassionate teacher who provided a safe space for LGBTQ students during the Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday night.
A San Juan Hills student who goes by Moth said they chose the school because it was supposed to be full of accepting people but was instead forced to watch a bomb dog walk between classrooms during their second period “due to intolerance.”
“No one should go to school in fear of facing oppression or threats. The LGBTQ+ community is being suppressed and that needs to stop,” Moth said. “I am a member of the community and I have been since I was 12. I am simply a person who has explored their own identity and who is confident in who they are. I am here to support my allies and my fellow community members.”
Parent Jessica Geyer said the community must denounce any threats of violence against Flint, Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte and San Juan Hills.
“The hate speech that has been perpetuated by the articles written in the national news media are to blame for the threats and we, as a community, must come together to reject them,” Geyer said. “They are meant to dehumanize because once a person or a group of people are othered, they are alone and easier to attack.”
In an interview with San Clemente Times the day after the meeting, Flint said there has been misinformation and rumors fueling a lot of anger. Parents are upset about something that isn’t available, Flint said.
“A lot of it is really overblown, fueled by fear,” they said.
Porn being available to students is not an epidemic in local schools, Flint said. The book that has largely drawn the most outrage, This Book is Gay, initially seemed great for Flint’s student-curated and community-developed library, they said.
The book has information about identity and was age-appropriate, according to Flint, who added that it included a sexual education section that seemed tame, as well as a disclaimer.
Flint said their understanding is someone then found more “intense” information in the book and went to Fox News instead of bringing it to their individual attention.
This Book is Gay was then pulled from Flint’s classroom. CUSD is currently figuring out how to review books available in classroom libraries, said Flint. Such a process, they added, is important to have and one they are not against.
Subsequent Fox News coverage has not noted the book has been pulled, which Flint said is something the outlet either doesn’t know or care about.
There is a difference between porn and students being presented more challenging and mature material, Flint said.
Flint further said they are not being investigated or disciplined by CUSD. No complaints have come from their students or parents, they said.
“I am frustrated that this is the publicity that comes out about my classroom,” said Flint, who has 10 years of working in the community. “It makes me sad.”
Other speakers at Wednesday’s meeting said they were against students being able to read sexually explicit material, regardless of whether it was LGBT-oriented.
Megan Martinez, from Long Beach, said sexuality doesn’t belong in an educational environment, “especially without parental consent.”
“When Flint chose it upon (themself) to place books containing graphic and sexual content in the classroom, (they) opened the door to pseudo-pornography,” Martinez said. “The information contained in the book is going to cause an increase in sexual activity, higher rates of STDs, pregnancy and students putting themselves in harmful situations.”
Amber Smith said parents are called hateful bigots and homophobic fascists because they don’t want sexually explicit materials in the classroom.
“Why are there so many people demanding access for minors to have books that talk about sex and information for dating apps for kids to meet up and have sex with people?” Smith said.
Brulte, along with Trustees Amy Hanacek and Krista Castellanos, denounced threats of violence and reiterated CUSD’s goal of inclusion. CUSD has also distributed a letter to all employees reconfirming the intention to fostering an environment where everyone can expect to be treated with dignity and respect.
“We are thankful for the prompt response from our law enforcement partners. We acknowledge the unsubstantiated threat may have significant impact on the feeling of safety of all employees, especially for our LGBTQ+ community,” Brulte said. “This is not condoned or tolerated. CUSD is a place where students and staff of all backgrounds are welcome and have a right to be safe and embraced.”
CUSD, Brulte continued, is proud of the diversity in its schools and communities and committed to treating all students and employees equally and with fairness.
Hanacek echoed the comments, stating that no one should have to go through the trauma of having their school targeted by a bomb threat.
“The hate and horrific rhetoric that has been building against our LGBTQ students, a respected educator and now the superintendent and district office obviously triggered a person, persons or group to threaten to kill children,” Hanacek said. “The narrative appears to now be evolving. You can spin things all you want but, at the end of the day, some folks are using children and schools to fight some kind of culture war.”
Data shows too many young people are suffering hate and intolerance, Hanacek said.
“We continue to have anti-bias training for all teachers, staff, coaches, etc. and support all additional training that support students—signs of suicide, etc.,” Hanacek said. “We support all programs that support cultural awareness, conflict resolution, etc.—like No Place for Hate.”
Hate and bigotry will not be tolerated, Castellanos said.
“I stand with the LGBTQ community,” Castellanos said. “Our students, our staff, our teachers deserve to learn each and every day in a safe space. We must move forward with our cultural proficiency work we have started in CUSD. There is a lot of work to be done. My hope is all our schools can become a designated No Place for Hate site.”
In other news from the meeting, Castellanos was named the new board president as part of the board’s annual leadership reorganization. The president generally serves one year in the role.
Michael Parham and Gary Pritchard were sworn in as newly elected trustees. Incumbent Trustee Judy Bullockus, who won the election for her district, was also sworn in.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.