Letter: Yesterday’s leader has proven unfit for today’s battle
To the editor,
I have written two best-selling books on the topic of face masks and their harm to children, and I have helped community leaders throughout California address that issue safely and thoughtfully. As a result, I have had the opportunity to work with board President Chris Arend.
I was once a fan of his work on the board until we began to work more closely, at which point I, unfortunately, saw a lot of smoke and mirrors.
While Arend spoke publicly about being anti-Critical Race Theory, his actions behind the scenes said otherwise. The Los Angeles Times even ran a video piece in which 1.) Arend spoke against CRT and 2.) the reporter then entered a classroom and photographed a CRT class being taught. (https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-03-20/ethnic-studies-class-spurs-a-racial-reckoning-in-california-wine-country) Anyone who understands CRT understands that this reporter is openly mocking Arend for being unaware about what was actually happening in his school right under his nose.
In contrast to that, you have Peter Byrne, a member of the community who was constantly involved at board meetings these past two years reporting things to the public that the board should have known: as one example, he reported that an LGBT library had been opened at the high school. The board was clueless. The administration was very much aware. Rather than addressing Byrne’s legitimate concerns, district staff began a campaign to silence Byrne, even interrupting him as he spoke at the board meeting. Once I saw that, I realized that there was more to Byrne than meets the eye.
Byrne is very threatening to the status quo that the radicals in Sacramento want to push on the local schools. He speaks up, asks hard questions, and does not take “no” for an answer — which makes him unlike most people the administration has to deal with. In him, the parents, students, community, and teachers truly have a voice.
If you speak to Byrne one-on-one, and just let him talk for a few minutes, he rattles off so many relevant details about educational policy — both current and historical. Peter Byrne is like a walking encyclopedia of educational policy.
With even the Los Angeles Times realizing that the Paso schools are a safe place for CRT under Arend, you can perhaps understand why Byrne has become so popular, even earning the Republican Party endorsement in this race.
While Arend spoke about being anti-mask and anti-vax mandate, his actions behind the scenes said otherwise. In early February, Arend blocked a board vote on the mandates — he told me over several conversations that he was going to do this. This was after months of pretending to be anti-mask while quietly blocking votes. It was only after students protested and stopped wearing the mask, a lawyer threatened to sue the board for blocking the vote, mass outrage from parents, and other board members publicly forcing his hand that Arend was left no other choice than to go along and allow the board to vote on this important matter.
I truly wish this were not true, but it is what I witnessed with my own eyes — One person single-handedly kept face masks on the 6,900 students in Paso schools. It was Arend. At every turn, every genuine effort I and others made to help sort the issue out, there was Arend standing there blocking the vote. It took me a few months to believe what I was seeing. Arend knew he would lose the open vote, so he blocked the open vote from happening. That is the sad truth to why Paso students had to wear masks until February 22, 2022. It was not Gavin Newsom. It was Arend.
I have no personal animosity for Arend, I like the man, and regularly invite the man to church and will continue to. I interact with many parents across the state and many school boards. In this upstanding community, he has been the most shocking board member I have encountered in this state in his propensity for saying one thing and doing another.
He inherited a very bad situation on the board. He stabilized it and was good at doing so. He prepared the board excellently for the fight that the board and community now need to have with Sacramento. For that, he deserves to be commended. However, he has also grown very comfortable in his role and simply does not have the stomach for a fight with Sacramento.
Byrne is exactly the person with the drive to carry that fight forward. He ruffles some feathers, even mine sometimes, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Byrne gets me thinking. Byrne says the uncomfortable things that no one else has the guts to say. And you know what, we live in a time when it is good to have a guy on the board who will not be afraid to ruffle some feathers by speaking the truth.
Yesterday’s leader fought a good fight, and it is time for him to support new leaders with the vigor and vision for today’s most necessary fights.
At this point, Arend can no longer win. He has burned too many bridges. By continuing his campaign, he makes it possible that Jim Cogan may win and that Arend’s legacy may be thrown onto the ash heap, setting the board and district back a decade. Such a blow to the community is both senseless and needless. Instead, the legacy of Arend should be built upon.
The ballots have been printed, but I ask Arend to publicly withdraw from the race and to back Byrne. Arend has no path to victory. At this point, he is only acting as a spoiler candidate by staying in.
Arend and others did the valuable work of stabilizing the district financially and putting it on good footing. Now it is time for him to step back and to play a different role of supporting Byrne as he fights the principled fight that will help turn the Paso schools into the educational institutions that this community and its children deserve.
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