A candidate’s forum ahead of next month’s Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District Governing Board election took a contentious tone as candidates questioned the questions they were being asked by a controversial event moderator, which largely centered around topics of critical race theory, abortion, birth control and gender identity.
The forum with the eight candidates was hosted Sept. 15 by the La Mirada Chamber of Commerce and was broadcast live on La Mirada Blog TV. Those competing in the election are incumbents Norma Amezcua, Narcis Brasov, Rob Cancio and Jorge Tirado, as well as challengers Casey Chattle, Becky Langenwalter, Rudy Miranda and Lorena Vidaurre.
Former Orange County school board commissioner and Huntington Beach City Council commissioner Gracey Van Der Mark served as moderator for the forum. She has become a controversial figure in local politics due to reports of associations with far-right groups and figures.
She came under fire after taking part in a demonstration at an anti-racism workshop in Santa Monica in 2017, according to the Los Angeles Times. She then uploaded a since-deleted video online which included the text: “This meeting was being ran by the elderly Jewish people who were in there. The colored people were there doing what the elderly Jewish people instructed them to do,” OC Weekly reported.
La Mirada Chamber of Commerce President Tammye McDuff introduced the moderator and said Van Der Mark had previously uncovered “adult material” that had been “hidden in the curriculum” in an Orange County School District, ultimately leading an effort to have the material removed.
“These actions protected thousands of families from material that was not age appropriate,
McDuff said. “Her knowledge in her field makes her an appropriate moderator.”
Following a series of questions regarding critical race theory, Planned Parenthood, abortion, birth control and gender reassignment, several of the candidates raised concerns that the topics were not relevant within the Norwalk La-Mirada USD and its schools.
In response to a question regarding whether children should be able to obtain abortions and birth control without parental knowledge, Cancio took issue with the line of inquiries.
“I’m almost feeling like I’m not in a friendly debate for school board with these questions,” he said.
“I assure you that we are in the business of teaching our students to be life-long learners, period. We’re not having discussions about providing these types of services. We’re not entertaining it, we’re not doing it and it’s inappropriate to be asking that question.”
Amezcua echoed the sentiment.
“It’s ridiculous. It is,” she said. “We’ve already talked about (it.) We’re not going to have a Planned Parenthood. We’re not going to bring in abortion clinics. You guys know that already. Let’s go with the good questions about academics and supporting our schools.”
Miranda asked, “This is what, like, the 4th question regarding Planned Parenthood or abortion? Those are non-issues,” he said. “It’s not on the agenda. It’s not going to happen. We need to move on. We need to focus on what needs to be done, not what could have possibly happened…. We need to focus on mental health, on the child, on the quality of education — appropriate education — and appropriate medical treatment for all students.”
The candidates were divided on the issue of whether critical race theory is currently being taught in the District, responding to a question posed by an audience member.
Tirado and Amezcua said that Norwalk-La Mirada USD schools did not teach the controversial theory.
“That’s hyperbole and it’s not present in our schools,” Tirado said. “If you think that we teach critical race theory, please come talk to us and give us your concerns. We do teach subjects that are very difficult, at times, but we have to do that.”
“We need to stop trying to make an issue out of something that’s not there,” he continued. “Show me the data. Show me the proof.”
Langenwalter and Brasov disagreed, both saying that the “core tenets” of CRT had been incorporated into the District’s Ethnic Studies program.
“I see many core tenets of critical race theory in our curriculum and especially in our training,” Langenwalter said.
Countering Tirado’s challenge, “I would like to chat with anyone who would like to see examples of that,” she added.
Brasov said the District’s current Ethnic Studies text, “A Young People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn, “speaks glowingly of the history of Socialism in the United States,” and that the principles of CRT can be found within the curriculum.
All eight candidates unanimously stated that they opposed banning texts from schools that have historically been used as academic literature.
The Norwalk-La Mirada USD Governing Board election will coincide with the statewide election on Nov. 8.
La Mirada Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Noel Jaimes urged public participation in the upcoming election and emphasized the significance of each ballot.
“Recently, in La Mirada, we had a city election in which a City Councilmember was elected by three votes,” he said. “So if you believe that your vote doesn’t matter, consider what happens here on the local level. Your vote is very important.”
A meet-and-greet for the candidates is scheduled to take place October 6th at the Norwalk Arts & Sports Complex, 13200 Clarkdale Avenue from 6:00-8:00 p.m. hosted by the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce.