School Board Excludes Spanish Speakers

By Kevin Hall, July 1, 2021, Community Alliance

Politics trumped best practices in the recent push by Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas to name a new school after philanthropists Murray and Francine Farber. In a 5-2 vote to approve despite impassioned community opposition, with Trustees Veva Islas and Terry Slatic dissenting, the majority backed Jonasson’s move to block further public inclusion in the naming process in late May.

Speaking through an interpreter, Juana Mesas was one of more than 20 people from the Latino, Black and Armenian communities who called on Jonasson to table her motion: “As a mother within the district I have the right to ask you to reopen the survey to select the name of the new installations. I also see this as an opportunity for us to let the district know that this is a constant problem that has been happening over the years.

“The communication from the district to our families has been really bad, and it has to change. Our voices need to be heard.”

Conservative Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas led the push to ignore Spanish-speaking parents in her role as a trustee on the Fresno Unified School Board to push through a school renaming after wealthy benefactors.

From the dais, Islas called on the board twice to reopen the process. “As we heard tonight, in particular from the Spanish-speaking community, we missed the mark in creating an inclusive process,” she said.

“Latinos represent 68% of our student body. If non-English-speaking parents did not know of this survey, we failed. We are hearing from the Spanish-speaking parents tonight that they were disenfranchised.”

“The same issues that have disenfranchised the Latino community have been experienced by the Armenian community. They’ve been experienced by the African-American community. We’re asking for solidarity,” Islas said.

“They’re simply asking to be included. If you listen to the words you heard—ignored, deceived, disenfranchised and years of the same thing—this is not the first time the Latino community has stood up here to say that they have been excluded. Again, my motion is that we postpone the decision tonight and that we reopen the survey process in a more inclusive way.”

Following Islas’s motion to reopen the process, board president Valerie Davis failed to call for a second—she herself had seconded Jonasson’s motion—and for the only time that evening correctly pronounced Trustee Claudia Cazares’s surname. Davis has long utilized Republicans’ racist habit of intentionally mispronouncing Latino surnames, misplacing the accent on the first syllable in this case.

Rather than addressing the motion to table, Cazares dismissed the Spanish-speaking parents’ concerns, saying of the district’s Internet and telephone outreach, “Nobody’s perfect.” She explained that she and her husband both had received the district’s Internet and telephone communications, demonstrating in real time that old definition of privilege of: If it’s not a problem for me, then it’s not a problem.

As for the Armenian and African-American parents at the May 19 school board meeting, Cazares went to even greater lengths to criticize their concerns. Despite her inexperience in local politics, Cazares confidently—and incorrectly—told the audience, “This board is one of the most open boards that you have ever seen.”

Politics had completely taken over the meeting by this point. Cazares, a former employee of developer Darius Assemi of Granville Homes, then employed a line of logic usually deployed by former FUSD employee Miguel Arias, who was present in the back of the room coaching his political allies on the board, Cazares among them—no small irony given Arias’s history of workplace abuse of women of color while employed at the school district, as reported by Mark Arax (www.mark-arax.com).

Cazares struggled to justify her position by claiming, “There have been many other boards that have also had the opportunity to name buildings after Roger Tatarian or Dolphas Trotter or however many other people have come to the board, and yet you’re pointing at this Brown and Black board as the ones that are going to do wrong. Regardless, we’re going to do wrong, right? Whoever we pick we’re going to do wrong? But there have been many other boards that did not look like this, that nobody questioned.”

In other words, Cazares was saying that by virtue of its racial composition the school board could not be accused of racist intent or acts. Then the board committed an act of institutionalized racism with the 5-2 vote to move ahead with the Farber moniker, the distinction between acts of individual and systemic racism lost on them.

Jonasson, who hopes to succeed hubby Luis Chavez on Fresno City Council in 2024 just as she followed him into his school board seat, instigated the community crisis through what boils down to snobbery.

The daughter of a former Mexican consul, Jonasson explained to the audience that she could have lived in Mexico, Canada or anywhere else in the world but she chose Fresno in 2006, her personal act of noblesse oblige. Her prepared speech was a mix of shaming, scolding and self-justification for perpetuating the systemic exclusion of people she clearly regards as less than worthy of full consideration.

The politically ambitious couple are conservatives, Democrats on some social issues only. Her mother, Martha Rosas, founded the Koch-backed front group for the Westlands Water District, El Agua es Asunto de Todos (Water is Everyone’s Business), as reported by Stan Santos in the September 2014 Community Alliance.

In 2020, Chavez joined the campaign staff of billionaire Republican turned Democratic Party presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg; he has endorsed right-wing extremists Steve Brandau and Margaret Mims. While an FUSD trustee he skipped three meetings to avoid controversial votes involving Harris Construction and the district’s lease-leaseback scandal; Arias at the time was the self-proclaimed “fixer” at the district.

In short, Chavez, Jonasson and Arias serve the status quo power structure and it rewards them.

The Farbers’ volunteer efforts and distributions of a late son’s fortune through a private foundation to Fresno educational efforts motivated Jonasson and Chavez, moths to the money flame, to launch the school naming campaign in their honor.

The Farbers have neither sought to decline the honor in the interest of community harmony or an act of humility, nor have they suggested it be named for their late son. They feel they deserve it and those who seek power by serving the White moneyed class agree.

*****

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