Fremont teachers say school board president Yang Shao has repeatedly disrespected its union membership. The teachers’ union has been in contract talks with the school district since March 2017.
Last week, they fought fire with fire and protested Shao’s fundraising event intended to kickoff his campaign for the Fremont City Council this fall. When the event was canceled, the band of teachers and parents continued the protest in front his home.
Shao voted last month not to adopt controversial sex education curriculum for fourth to sixth graders, a decision that split the Fremont community, and was opposed by progressives.
But the impetus for last week’s protest followed a May 23 school board meeting that included 500 Fremont teachers and 111 speaker cards for a public comment that preceded a closed session meeting that evening. One of the agenda items included the impasse between negotiators for the district and Fremont Unified District Teachers Association.
Shao, the board president, allotted just 30 minutes for the entire slate of speakers, allowing them just one-minute apiece. The board later extended the period to an hour. Shao also gave short shrift to the union’s leadership, granting them five minutes to speak, but counting the time against the initial 30-minute period.
“That was really the only time for our members to address the board in public before they went into closed session to direct their bargaining team and that upset a lot of people,” said Brannin Dorsey, a Fremont teacher, and one of the protest’s organizers.
“We’re a pretty progressive community, but we have a school board that is not acting progressive,” she added.
Once the speakers addressed the board, Shao disappeared under the dais, expressed disinterest, and thanked speakers with a condescending tone, said Dorsey. “That kind of what led to this,” she said of the protest.
Shao was not at either location, leaving the group to demonstrate on the street corner holding signs and banging a drum. It is unclear whether Shao’s campaign fundraiser was moved to another location that night, according to an announcement he made on Facebook. Shao said overwhelming demand for the event exceeded the capacity of the original location, but he also expressed lament that it did not occur as planned.
“A group of misinformed protesters had been plotting for days to crash my election campaign event,” Shao wrote on Facebook. He called the reasons for protesting “made-up excuses.”
“I and all of our Board members have acted fairly and justly in hearing their protests to a previously past measure for their wage increase,” said Shao.
The decision by protesters to resume the demonstration at his home also rankled Shao. “Some of the protesters clearly crossed the line. We live in a small town home but with many of our neighbors of last 15 years closely clustered in a residential community. This had caused a large commotion and disrupted the peace and quiet that many of them deserve but was simply robbed away by these protesters.”
At a nearly two-hour early public comment period leading to the Fremont school board’s closed session Wednesday, Shao was polite, offering to extend to the roughly 70 speakers a three-minute time limit. The board, however, supported one minute.
As for the fall, Fremont will for the first time be using district-based elections after a Southern California attorney’s threat of a lawsuit forced the City Council last year to move away from at-large elections. After November, the Fremont City Council will expand from five to seven seats.
Shao is running in District 4, one of two newly created council seats. The campaign for the Niles, Canyon Heights, and Mission Valley district seat is also likely to include former Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler and attorney Debbie Watanuki.