Rossmoor’s elected leaders will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, June 22 to discuss and possibly vote on the Orange County Education Council‘s plan to hold town halls on ethnic studies in their small community later in the summer.
The County School Board chose Rossmoor’s Rush Park Auditorium as the town hall site at the suggestion of board member Mari Barke, a resident of Rossmoor. Her husband, Jeff Barke, is chairman of the five-member Rossmoor Community Services District board of directors, which will review the board’s permit application.
Jeff Barke declined to answer questions on Friday as to whether he was in a conflict of interest or would recuse himself from the licensing debate because his wife sits on the school board. Barke referred the questions to Rossmoor Community Services District Attorney Tarquin Preziosi, who was not immediately available.
The Barkes have been conservative voices at rallies and various public meetings. During the pandemic, they spoke out against face mask requirements and for the full reopening of schools.
On June 2, members of the Board of Education voted to hold two forums at Rush Park. The board does not have authority over what is taught in the 27 Orange County school districts, but wants to use its role to present information on ethnic studies, the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, and Critical Race Theory, an academic concept that describes racism as a social construct embedded in the country’s legal systems and policies.
Mari Barke called ethnic studies and critical race theory a “troubling curriculum.” The chairman of the board, Ken Williams, recently called it “a terrible program of studies that will divide America”.
Some Rossmoor residents have complained that their unincorporated community, which sits at the northern edge of the county, is an odd choice for county forums on controversial education topics. They fear the events will draw large crowds and lead to traffic and parking problems. They also fear that the discussions will escalate into violence.
Other residents welcome the forums, scheduled for July 27 and August 24, saying they want to learn more about the ethnic studies curriculum that some local school districts have already adopted or are considering.
Rossmoor chief executive Joe Mendoza said the meeting scheduled for Tuesday will allow residents to share their views and hear from a representative of the sheriff’s department, who will speak on security measures. Los Alamitos Unified School District last month opted to hold a meeting on a related topic online rather than in person, lest the protests endanger the safety of board members or the public. .
Mendoza said he believes residents’ concerns can be taken into account to ensure town halls will be safe and will not become a burden on surrounding neighbors. To alleviate the need for additional parking, for example, people will be allowed to park on grass, which has been done in the past, he said.
âIf the board says it’s doable, it’s doable,â Mendoza said.
The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Rush Park Auditorium, 3021 Blume Drive in Rossmoor.