The Glendale Unified School Board’s final meeting of the school year draws dozens of parents, community members, and activists protesting over the district’s policies on LGBT content in schools in Glendale, Calif., on June 20, 2023. (Courtesy of Hasmik Bezirdzhyan)
A California bill that would make it a misdemeanor to harass school employees or disrupt school board meetings passed the state Legislature Sept. 12 after being placed on the suspense file last month.
State Senate Bill 596
, introduced by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Glendale) in February, would criminalize those who disrupt school board meetings or harass teachers, other school staff, or district officials in verbal, written, or electronic communication with up to $1,000 in fines and jail time.
The Senate in May advanced the bill in a 30–8 vote to the state Assembly, where it was placed Aug. 21 on the “suspense file”—a holding place for bills that require a significant fiscal expense.
However, the bill was resurrected in a 12–3 vote by the state Assembly’s fiscal committee on Sept. 1. It was then amended before passing the Assembly on Sept. 11, and the Senate approved the changes on Sept. 12. It now heads to the governor’s desk.
When he introduced the bill, Mr. Portantino said he did so in response to the growing group of parents and community members who are questioning teachers and school administrators over controversial content in their children’s classrooms—including those who express concern about classrooms celebrating LGBT Pride month and other lessons containing gender ideology in classrooms.
“Actions that incite fear amongst educators who are teaching in accordance with state standards are counterproductive, unacceptable and potentially dangerous,” said Mr. Portantino in a February statement
. “Too many teachers are being intimidated and harassed for just doing their job. [Senate Bill] 596 will ensure that they can continue to be dedicated educators, helping their students thrive unencumbered by fear and intimidation.”
The bill’s consideration comes after months of rising tension in Mr. Portantino’s Glendale district over its policies on LGBT topics in classrooms.
Several hundred people gathered for a demonstration outside of Glendale Unified’s board meeting, where the school board voted unanimously to proclaim June 2023 as “LGBT Pride Month,” in Glendale, Calif., on June 6, 2023. (Micaela Ricaforte/The Epoch Times)
In June, three people were arrested after a brawl broke out between demonstrators and counter-protestors in opposition to the Glendale Unified School District’s recognition of Pride Month and LGBT content in classrooms.
Those in opposition say they want the district to focus on teaching academics and allow parents to introduce such topics to children on their own terms.
An Unconstitutional Bill to Silence Parents: Critics
Aneta Krpekyan, a Glendale Unified parent, told The Epoch Times in an email that the bill is an attempt by lawmakers to find a legal way to silence parents.
“[Mr. Portantino] pushes this bill under the guise of protecting educators from ‘harassment,’ when it’s actually a bill that protects teachers from any criticism when they go rogue on their curriculum,” said Ms. Krpekyan, who also plans to run for the Glendale Unified School Board. “This is a parents’ silencing bill and nothing more.”
Additionally, Ms. Krpekyan said the bill seeks to place teachers and district employees in a protected class of their own, while stomping on basic parental rights.
“This bill protects school employees from public criticism, not harassment,” she said.
Ms. Krpekyan further claimed the bill could infringe on the First Amendment rights of parents.
“Not only does this bill silence parents by violating our First Amendment rights, but it will also cause them to have a criminal record for speaking out,” she said. “Parents will end up in jail and spend hefty fees for defense attorneys.”