California teachers accused of recruiting students to LGBTQ club cleared, controversy continues

Josue Torres
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An independent review has found no misconduct on the part of two California teachers whose jobs were endangered last year due to their administration of an LGBTQ student club during a period of conservative reaction.

According to an investigation by the Van Dermyden Makus law firm, the teachers, Lori Caldeira and Kelly Baraki did not mislead parents or their school, Buena Vista Middle School, about the club’s activities, nor did they improperly “recruit” students into it.

In the same school auditorium where the two teachers and the Spreckels Union School District board were criticized by dozens of community members in December, the findings were revealed late Thursday in front of around 10 people.

The event has generated substantial disruption notwithstanding the investigation’s findings, and Caldeira and Baraki resigned after receiving harassment around the nation and being put on administrative leave by district officials.

At the meeting on Thursday, attendees discussed the importance of the teachers to the neighborhood and how much had been lost in recent months. There were no longer any of the irate parents who had formerly filled the theatre.

The controversy occurs at a time when right-wing politicians and media personalities are inciting panic about the existence of transgender Americans who are requesting fundamental equality and acceptance. 

It all started when Abigail Shrier, a writer well-known across the country for claiming that transgender youth are a hazardous “craze,” attacked the instructors in her Substack newsletter.

She claimed that the educators were secretly taped saying they watched students’ online activity at school so they could later invite them to their GSA, or gay-straight alliance, called UBU, an abbreviation for “You Be You,” during a presentation last fall at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in Palm Springs.

According to Shrier, Bakari stated in the presentation that when they were conducting their virtual learning, they tracked what the students were doing on Google when they weren’t doing school assignments. 

She said that one student searched for “Trans Day of Visibility” on Google. And they thought: check. Planning to extend an invitation to the club to that student when they returned to school.

Late last year, Caldeira claimed in an interview that the remark was “tongue in cheek” and misinterpreted. Caldeira said that neither she nor Baraki had ever kept an eye on kids’ internet activities in this manner. She expressed confidence that their innocence would be shown by the inquiry that the school district had hired.

According to the inquiry, the instructors did make remarks that were “admittedly false,” “harmful,” and “disruptive” during their presentation at the teachers’ conference, creating the appearance that they misled the school’s administration and parents about how they ran the club.

However, the assessment found that the instructors did not participate in any real misleading behavior in relation to the UBU club’s aim and activities. Instead, their remarks during the presentation weren’t a realistic representation of their behavior in real life.

In addition to interviewing 21 witnesses, including administrators, instructors, and current and former pupils, the legal firm says they evaluated more than 1,600 pages of documentation. 

The investigation found that Caldeira and Baraki did not “stalk” or keep an eye on students’ online behavior in order to find new members for the group.

The investigation discovered that the teachers did not “coach” kids about altering their gender identification and did not employ “mind tricks” or any other strategies to allay parent objections. Without any supporting data, right-wing commentators and others have claimed that young people are being forced to transition.

There is still contention concerning the LGBTQ club. Jessica Konen, a former parent at the school who had criticized the district in December, filed a lawsuit against the board, the two teachers, and the principal before the investigation was finished, claiming they had injured her by failing to inform her that her child had chosen to use a different name and pronouns at school.

In accordance with AB1266, a 2014 law that safeguards the rights of transgender students, the California Department of Education states that school personnel should not divulge information regarding students’ gender identities without the kids’ consent.

Caldeira and Baraki have been placed on leave by the district, but no comments have been made on this. 

Although the UBU club founded by Caldeira and Baraki was shut down as the inquiry got underway, the district issued a statement in January stating that it is a primary priority to guarantee that organizations like UBU will continue to be available to students.

Parents, teachers, and kids lamented the loss of the instructors during the school board meeting on Thursday.

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