January 24, 2021

Systemic Racism in Our Community

Many of the personal accounts shared after the killing of George Floyd have stuck with me. I read about the Black man who intentionally brings one or both of his young daughters with him on his daily walks around their neighborhood with his dog to avoid being perceived as a threat. I read about Massachusetts College of Art and Design professor Steve Locke, who was stopped by police on his way to teach a class and told he was being brought in to let the victim of a robbery identify him.

As protests took place in our community in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, I had an immediate, visceral reaction to a statement I saw alleging that this wasn’t a local issue. I was particularly worried about the kind of message such statement would send to our Black community members. This past week we again saw all too clearly just how local this issue is when a group of Black teenagers shopping for snacks at a local Target after church were handcuffed and detained for a crime they did not commit. Target has issued an apology for its actions towards these teenagers and does not dispute that the incident was the result of racial profiling.

A number of local moms of Black children reached out to me in my position as a school board trustee last Spring, describing how alone they often feel in our community. They shared some of the instances of racism their children experienced and that the silence of others in our community adds to the reality that they are not supported. They highlighted the opportunity gaps that exist in our education system related to race. They explained what it is like to have conversations with their Black children that I am sheltered from having with my own children because of the privilege of being a white woman – a privilege that stems solely from the color of my skin.

Parents of white children saw a glimpse into the worry of parents of Black children when George Floyd was killed.

“When he called for his momma. Oh, God. That just ...There was something about that, that changed in me because it was just— the level of fear in somebody, you know you're about to lose your life unnecessarily, unjustly, that that's your last callout — it's devastating.”

I have conversations with our children about race, the differences in what BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) experience, and about how to use our privilege as allies. But I will never have to talk with our children about the real and potentially life-ending dangers they face because of their skin color, and I do not have to teach them in detail how to be hyper-aware of what they look like, how they act, and how they respond to persons in authority because of their skin color.

And they will never experience what it is like to live with the knowledge that nothing about them (what they accomplish, how hard they work, who they are as a person) will protect them from the dangers they face due to the color of their skin. (Coates, Ta-Nehisi, Between the World and Me)

As Professor Locke explained, “Something weird happens when you are on the street being detained by the police. People look at you like you are a criminal. The police are detaining you so clearly you must have done something, otherwise they wouldn't have you.”

As I watched the video of these local teens being handcuffed in front of other shoppers and employees at their local Target, I thought of what these kids must have been feeling – the genuine fear for their lives and the emotions around being publicly made to look like criminals. And I thought of their parents who send their kids into the world every day worried that this might happen and knowing they cannot be there to protect their babies every second of their lives.

And then I recalled the parents who shared some of the questions and decisions they struggle with on a regular basis about how to provide their children with opportunities they deserve while not having those opportunities stifled by their skin color and without subjecting them to increased instances of racism.

“But for the first time, I started to have the thought: I did everything to make sure that we weren't in crime-ridden areas, that we were in safe neighborhoods and that they did get the best. And still, I fear for them walking down the street. Did I do even more of a disservice by being the only Black family on this street? Do we have to do more work by making sure that everyone knows us, and everyone knows our hearts and who we are and be friends with everyone?”

It should not be the job of Black families to prove who they are to their neighbors. It is our job as allies to put in the work to understand the biases we carry and to support the change needed to policies and processes. Some of the moms I spoke with let me know that they, rightfully so, expected much more from our district and school community in general and in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

I had the privilege with working with a number of community groups on CVUSD’s Resolution on Commitment to Racial Equity that was unanimously passed by our board earlier this school year. The mom of one of the boys in the video was also one of the individuals that worked on this resolution. Through this resolution, the Board acknowledged past and present racial injustices experienced by CVUSD students, families and staff, but also called for specific actions. Our district also created an Equity Task Force to, among other things, make recommendations to address existing racism, bias, inequities and systemic barriers that disadvantage BIPOC students and staff in our district. The board will be receiving an update on the work of the Equity Task Force at an upcoming meeting.

But the work our district and task force have begun is not enough. Speaking up when our neighbors directly or indirectly experience racism must be done loudly enough that it drowns out both the inevitable racist responses and the silence. During one of the Black Lives Matter Protests, Samantha, a local mom who wears her scrubs when she is out so others do not think she is a threat and who fears for her son conveyed how that support gave her hope. We will not always have the right words and we will make mistakes, but we must be willing to try, to learn more, and do better when we are wrong - even when well-intentioned.

It is equally as important that we are part of making change in our own individual capacities – whether through positions of leadership (at work, in our volunteer roles, or elected positions) or simply as neighbors and friends – and that we lift up those voices with the knowledge and experience to lead that change.

To the teens and families of the teens in the video – I am so sorry about what was done to you. Thank you for publicly sharing these wrongs with us as your community so that we can support you and call for change.

December 30, 2020

Times of Crisis Demand Transparency and Action

As our community continues to deal with an unprecedented public health crisis, this time of disinformation and division presents a unique challenge for local leaders as they seek to communicate crucial details to the public they serve. The national political climate has resulted in the obligation of ensuring that factual and truthful information is communicated to our communities falling to the local leaders that you see every day at school drop offs, in the grocery store, and with whom you communicate directly online.

It is within this context that I carefully viewed the many statements and coverage about recent unsafe gatherings and entries into businesses on social media and in local papers ( I find myself incredibly disappointed in the inaccurate representations and claims shared by a number of local leaders, particularly those who have been generally respected and trusted in our community. As we collectively face severe threats to public health, it is imperative that local leaders take a stand against those who have demonstrated that they care little for the fellow community members they put at risk with their actions. This starts by ensuring our local leaders avoid giving weight to the false and unsupportable talking points used by such individuals as it otherwise empowers their efforts and further jeopardizes public health. I appreciate the local leaders who have stepped up to the challenge, but we need all our local leaders to commit to fact-based communication in these challenging times, even when it is difficult or perhaps politically controversial to do so.

So in short, as it relates to the recent unsafe events referenced above, our public needs to know that the right to “peacefully” protest is not absolute, the relevant and permissible regulations of free speech have failed to be explained or addressed, the Governor’s orders are enforceable under the law, and our city and county have the means to take action to protect our community. These are the facts, and as discussed below, it is disheartening to see some work so hard to avoid them.

The Right to “Peacefully” Protest is Not Absolute

References to recent events as “peaceful” completely disregard the danger to others’ lives caused by those intentionally participating in potential super spreader events. Let’s be clear, there is nothing “peaceful” about mass mask-less gatherings and coordinated swarming of businesses, and we need our local leaders to immediately stop implying otherwise.

While alternatives are strongly encouraged, state public health directives do not prohibit in-person outdoor protests and rallies as long as social distancing is maintained and a mask/face covering is worn. Additionally, “local Health Officers are advised to consider appropriate limitations on outdoor attendance capacities, factoring their jurisdiction’s key COVID-19 health indicators. Failure to follow these requirements may result in an order to disperse or other enforcement action.”

Recent statements made online by Thousand Oaks’ Mayor include the following (a similar quote was included in the Acorn article): “When it comes to free speech, assembly is legally permitted at shopping malls, per the CA Supreme Court. Since [not] wearing a mask is not breaking a law, and the first amendment right to protest is of course protected, law enforcement would be walking a slippery slope arresting people. Their action would not hold up in any court.”

The location of speech demonstrations is not the only consideration in determining whether government regulation is appropriate. The government may enforce general regulations on the time, place and manner of expression when the regulations are content neutral, narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interests (e.g. public health during a pandemic) and leave open ample alternatives to communication. For example, protesters cannot block access to sidewalks or buildings, or engage in speech likely to incite an immediate disruptive or dangerous disturbance, such as shouting “fire!” in a crowded room that causes a stampede of persons to head for the exit doors Local governments may also require permits for certain types of free speech activities. And as a side note, malls can also adopt reasonable free speech regulations.;

The Governor’s Order Can Be Enforced

One widely circulated explanation for the lack of enforcement is that deputies “cannot enforce a law that doesn’t exist” and that personal responsibility is the strategy because “there is no law that says you must wear a mask.”

In reality, the Governor has broad authority under the California Emergency Services Act to issue health mandates during a pandemic as long as a declared state of emergency is in place. The law does not have to originate through a bill passed by the legislature under these circumstances. Further, the Governor’s orders are enforceable under California Government Code, section 8665.;

Additionally, the claim shared by Capt. Buschow in the Acorn that the Americans With Disabilities Act creates a loophole for enforcement ignores that the ADA applies only to “covered entities,” and does not include most law enforcement agencies. Spreading the notion that enforcing mask requirements infringes on disability rights perpetuates the myth that everyone has protections under the ADA and serves to dilute the protections for those qualified individuals who need them.

Our City Council Has the Power to Act

There are a couple things to note about the assertion that the city simply does not have jurisdiction over this issue because public health orders come from Ventura County Public Health and jurisdiction therefore lies with the county. First, the city contracts with the VCSO for law enforcement services, including to “enforce laws”, “safeguard lives” and “respond to public concerns.” Additionally, many other cities in CA have taken proactive steps to ensure they have the ability to enforce COVID-19 health and safety mandates. Specifically, these cities have enacted local emergency declarations reflecting the statewide order (including mask and social distancing requirements) and providing local penalties for failure to comply (including administrative citations, infractions, or misdemeanors). Some cities’ orders clarify that the penalties are a measure of last resort after education and voluntary efforts have failed. See for example,

Cities that have enacted such orders recognize that the failure to wear a face mask in current conditions results in extreme peril to the safety and health of persons within the city.;

The information on the City’s website includes a Declaration of Local Health Emergency from March, which was used to address a moratorium on evictions and to address the timing of commercial delivery operations. Noticeably missing is the need for mask use in public.

Reliance on personal responsibility and false “jurisdictional” claims wholly ignores the realities of the current public health crisis. While wearing a mask and socially distancing to protect others seems like an easy concept, we know that a sense of personal responsibility does not stop all individuals from engaging in acts that are harmful/deadly to others…we would otherwise have no crime in our communities. This is exactly why enforcement mechanisms exist. We do not expect our officers to walk up to a group of folks engaging in a fist fight with innocent bystanders and allow them to continue if the officers’ requests to stop fail. We shouldn’t rely on a hands-off strategy with a potentially deadly form of violence either.

What is the Cost of Non-Enforcement?

In response to inquiries regarding some of the broad inaccurate legal statements, I was also informed that the DA will not bother with people who do not wear masks because they are too busy with serious criminals given the lower capacity of jails due to COVID (here is some information on those criminals – Additionally, I was advised that the small fines judges have imposed on businesses are not a deterrent, which results in a lot of county expenses for very little in return.

Look, some of the most difficult conversations I have had with business clients is explaining that even though a lawsuit brough against them is without merit/ill intentioned, it will cost them much more to litigate than to settle the case. Settlements can avoid having to let employees go or cutting a program because funds went to litigation costs. There are times, however, when the cost of not litigating a case is too high.

Putting aside that the DA’s office and our courts generally have limited involvement with simple infractions, if the decision to not enforce mandates is really due to a cost-benefit analysis, we need the data. Specifically, we need the data regarding the deterrent on individuals participating in potential super spreader events (not just businesses) and the cost to our community of not enforcing. In addition to the obvious moral considerations of the actual lives of community members that may be lost, what are the economic impacts to our community from further spread of the virus…how many more local businesses will not survive, what will the ultimate financial impact be to our local schools and the programs offered, how much will tax revenue, which funds essential services and projects in our city, decrease? Do more resources need to be devoted to enforcement in the short term to prevent long term devastating financial consequences?

Giving Legal Advice/Guidance

Because I am an attorney, I make sure to indicate that I am not the school district’s attorney (so I can’t give legal advice/guidance to or on behalf of the district) when I make statements about legal issues. I can, however, use my knowledge and background in evaluating all issues. When I pressed for the source of the broad legal conclusions communicated, I was referred to the Sheriff’s recent video on the issue of enforcement. While the Sheriff explains that the enforcement mechanism in the Governor’s orders is not something he wants to use, he does in fact recognize the existence of the enforcement tool and does not rule out using it at some undefined point. In any event, local leaders must do their due diligence to confirm the accuracy of information, including legal analysis and conclusions, prior to repeating it as fact. Spreading falsities during a pandemic can literally cost lives.

If Not Now, When?

I was admittedly taken aback and disappointed in the reasoning provided in the Sheriff’s recent interview. While state guidelines are constantly changing, often inconsistent, and more information/direction is needed, this is true about the guidance for all sectors. This explanation does not sit well at a time when small businesses, schools, and families also have to constantly adjust detailed plans, implement new health and safety measures, and spend additional funds to meet new/changing requirements. The Sheriff explained that there may be a scenario, unforeseen at this time, when the enforcement mechanism in the order is a good tool to use and everyone will be in agreement. What exactly is that time, if not now, and when do we honestly foresee a time when everyone will agree as to enforcement? Those who are providing in-person services – such as grocery workers, health professionals, school personnel, and law enforcement following health and safety mandates – deserve better. There is simply no room right now for an approach of not taking action because it is hard.

Where is the public statement that things are incredibly difficult to implement and certain areas of the guidance are unclear, but we are working to get specifics from the state and will implement orders to the very best we can until then because of the significant threat to our public’s health? Where is the statement that we encourage legal expressions of speech and will work to both ensure such expressions of speech are protected and not permit illegal/unprotected forms of free speech? Where is the statement that violence takes different forms and knowingly participating in a potential super spreader event at a time when cases in our community are surging and we have 0% ICU bed availability is in no way peaceful? Where is the statement that we will use whatever means available to facilitate enforcement of these laws?

The attempt to appear diplomatic by blaming inaction on the inability to enforce executive orders due to misconstrued “constitutional rights” is in reality glaringly political. Now is the time to be crystal clear about what we stand for and the message being received is not only disappointing…it is dangerous.

October 10, 2018

Signs of a Bigger Problem

You know what really gets me? Trying to explain to our kids why some people break the rules. It goes against everything we teach them. Yes, I know they are just signs and the jury is out regarding their effectiveness. Clearly though, those abusing the rules think they need to place their signs in illegal places to win, and are willing to do so.

I reached out to Amy Chen, Mike Dunn, and Angie Simpson on Twitter and by email (twice) asking them to commit to removing these signs. It seemed like a reasonable request. Ms. Chen and Mr. Dunn have not responded. Ms. Simpson informed me during a conversation that she did not have time due to work and family. This is something I can personally relate to, especially in these many months of campaigning. Yet as candidates and, if elected, as board members, we will have a great deal of responsibilities and choosing not to follow certain rules because they hinder personal goals shouldn’t enter the equation.

Additionally, we aren’t talking about the occasional sign inadvertently misplaced by a well-meaning supporter. That happens in every campaign and it’s understandable. No - we are talking about the clearly organized and coordinated effort to place signs illegally in the areas most visible to the public - parks, the sides of busy streets, the entrances to popular shopping destinations, etc. Have you noticed that the numbers drastically increase on Saturday mornings when the city office is closed and unable to address reports?

I hear from many supporters frustrated at the blatant violation of sign regulations and who think we should just put our signs out there too at this point. I get it. Trust me - I really, really get it. This is how politics gets dirty. Rules are broken and values are ignored in the name of winning. The problem for me is that it’s just not who I am at my core. This isn’t leading by example. This isn’t the person that will credibly teach my kids about respecting the rules.

And let’s be clear, this issue is bigger than just sign regulations. Setting aside that some candidates have also struggled with candidate forum requirements and ballot designations, the blatant disregard for our community norms goes to a much more troublesome and disappointing issue. The willingness to intentionally and repeatedly break clear sign regulations in our city is indicative of the type of board members these individuals will be. Board policies and by-laws, state laws (Brown Act anyone?)…these rules will not be followed when they do not work to the advantage of these individuals. It’s a sense of entitlement and “above the rules” thinking that bothers me deeply and that we try extremely hard to teach our kids is wrong and unjust. So no, I won’t be placing my signs illegally and I will continue to set a good example for our kids. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I will make a good board member - you may disagree with me on certain topics but integrity and honesty happen to be really important to me. And, yes, I know there will be a handful of individuals who post negative comments in response to that statement. I knew that going into this. I’m also very secure in the person that I am and I act accordingly.

Your personal support of my candidacy and vision for our school district and our community is extremely meaningful and important. If you would like to help me get on the board, let’s show that this can be done the right way. Here’s how you can help with signs: Get out there and ask those in high traffic areas (homes and businesses) if they are willing to display a sign for a candidate who wants to restore our community’s trust in our board and lead by example. If you have kids, bring them with you when you ask and show them how it’s done! Let’s get these true representations of support out there for our community to see.

April 30, 2018

National Autism Awareness Month

As Ed and I sat on the couch filling out one of the bazillion forms for Johnny’s assessment, we looked over at each other. Without saying a word, we knew the results from the pattern of our answers.

Call it mother’s intuition, but I had known since Johnny was a toddler. He didn’t exhibit all the typical signs of autism spectrum disorder - heck, at that time, I didn’t even know there was something called “autism spectrum disorder”. He wasn’t lining up toys, he was very social, and he loved to cuddle. When I asked one of his pediatrician’s about my concerns, he looked at me like I was a crazy mom. We heard from many - “he’s just a boy” or “he’ll grow out of it”. I questioned myself and my abilities as a mother as a result, yet still…I knew.

I knew in the moments we had to race home before the fireworks started because he would scream in utter pain, in the moments when I would sit and watch a movie with him in a quiet room during holiday family gatherings that overstimulated him, in the horrible moments when he couldn’t have dental work done because of his intense anxiety, in the moments where I had to buy 7 pairs of the exact same pants because they were the only kind he could stand having on his skin, and in the moments when I noticed he got along better with younger kids…I knew.

As he entered elementary school, there were more signs. That’s what happens with “high-functioning” kids - the differences among peers become more pronounced as they get older. Among other things, he began what we now know is called stimming, which is often used as a way to calm oneself. Turns out that everyone stims - ever bitten your nails or tapped your pencil repeatedly on a table? Those on the spectrum just have more pronounced versions of this type of behavior. Our Johnny boy scratched his face/flapped his hands, made animal/baby noises…or super cool sound effect noises.

The biggest thing I have learned is that if you’ve met one kid on the spectrum, you’ve met one kid on the spectrum. No two kids on the spectrum are alike, which is why they now classify many things (such as Aspergers) as “autism spectrum disorder”.

“High-functioning” is honestly an odd place to be. Johnny isn’t in special education classes as he does not yet need academic assistance in that sense, but he definitely has to work harder in certain areas of general ed and he has specific social and emotional needs. We learned that people often have overlapping diagnoses - for Johnny, it includes ASD, ADHD, and anxiety. His anxiety causes him to have to work much harder and prepare much longer than most kiddos at things he loves and wants to do, but frankly can’t get to a place where he can do it. As a result, Ed and I have cried (like ugly cried) at what are seemingly little moments in life…the first time Johnny stood on stage with the rest of his class in a school performance, when he decided to give the rock wall a chance at his school’s fall festival and climbed up all of about four feet, and when he put his head in the water of our pool after intense work with his amazing instructor.

When we received the official diagnosis, we decided it was not something we would try to hide. We didn’t ever want it to be seen as something negative, because we firmly believe that it’s simply a part of who Johnny is as a person. This was the best decision we could have made. Those who do not have experience with someone on the spectrum cannot be expected to get it. By being open, we are able to educate others who can then understand him and other kids with struggles/needs better…and also see past some of the things that appear different to all of his amazingness.

Speaking of which - Johnny is the MOST imaginative person I have ever met in my entire life. He is able to create worlds that the minds of others simply aren’t capable of creating. He is kind and loving - he truly cares about other people, even if he doesn’t always express it. He cracks us up on a regular basis with his amazing sense of humor and his now infamous dance moves. He gets really excited about little things, which in turn makes us remember to stop and enjoy the little things in life. And he tries really, really hard to accomplish things he wants to do.

He has also changed us as parents and people. As a type A personality who likes to have order and control in my life, I have had to learn to be much more understanding, flexible, and to pick my battles. It has unquestionably made me a better person and I am thankful that Johnny has changed me in these ways. Ed and I were suddenly dealing with things that parents aren’t just equipped to handle and we had to learn the best ways to support each other because we quickly realized that we deal with struggles as parents in much different ways and that in the midst of caring for your child, other relationships often fall by the wayside. And our amazing daughter Abbie is growing up to be someone who is able to see things in people that others do not see, is able to explain differences in her brother to others who comment/ask questions, and defends and stands up for those seen as “different”.

It is often not apparent to others that Johnny has special challenges, so we have had to quickly get over feeling the stares and judgment of those who think he’s just acting out or lacking in parental guidance. That judgment in moments when he struggles with his emotions or when it appears we are forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do…that was admittedly REALLY hard at first, but I rarely pay any mind to it now because I know that those who judge simply don’t have a basis for understanding. But if I can ask one thing in honor of autism awareness month, it’s this - take a moment to learn about the kids around you and talk to your own kids. I can tell when parents have done so. Johnny has friends at school that get him. They know his little quirks (he still likes to give his buddies bear hugs and regularly talks a mile a minute at a high volume) and they also know his amazing strengths (he often invents the games he and his friends play and can make his buddies crack up). Still, there are many kids that do not understand him and I will be super straight with you…that is extremely difficult. It’s the hardest part as a parent - it’s what keeps us up at night. As parents, we all want to know our children are included and accepted. So, talk with your kids- read them books about kids that have differences, point out that diversity is a positive thing, explain that people’s brains work differently and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, teach kindness, and most importantly - set an example by your own actions and words. I promise you - your life will be positively affected by these amazing kids, too.

February 19, 2018

“Be bold, be respectful, be a leader”

I recently had the opportunity to attend a program with the Ventura County Women’s Political Council. It was an appreciated dose of inspiration. During the program, I had the privilege of listening to the Honorable Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California (the first Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice).

Much of what she spoke about was relevant to issues that our community is facing at this time. She talked about how our strength is in our diversity and that we should surround ourselves with diverse points of view, while remaining respectful to one another. I strongly believe in this viewpoint and see this approach to political discourse as more important now than ever. We live in a varied and dynamic society and must learn to live together and communicate on issues of concern without the anger and resentment that has recently become the hallmark of both our national and local politics. Opposing views and respect should not be mutually exclusive concepts. It is important that we learn to listen to and talk with one another without contempt, and keep in mind that, despite our differences, we are all in this together and should all have an opportunity to be heard.

Her parting words have lingered with me and I am going to let them guide me during my campaign - “be bold, be respectful, be a leader”.

A chance to say thank you

As an added bonus to the morning, I had the much-appreciated opportunity to personally thank current State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. I interned for Senator Jackson when she was a California State Assemblymember in the Capitol while I was in college. Very early on, I observed that she thought about issues in a way many other representatives did not. She was able to identify gaps and anticipated unintended consequences with proposed legislation, and she asked thoughtful and probing questions.

Senator Jackson made a point of speaking one-on-one with her interns, something I was surprised to learn that other representatives did not do. During our discussions, she explained that her legal education taught her to think in this way. I wanted to learn these unique critical thinking skills and use those to benefit and advocate for others; My experience in her office solidified my decision to attend law school.

In each of our lives, there are moments and people that have a lasting impact on us. After so many years, it was great to thank her in person for being one of these people and providing me with this experience. It also reminds me what a big impact we can have on the lives of young people, when we treat them as worthy of our time and recognize what they have to offer to the world.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Jenny Fitzgerald at the Ventura County Women's Political Council

Paid for by Jenny Fitzgerald for CVUSD School Board 2018