Back in November, Abigail Shrier, a journalist who achieved notoriety by pointing how much of the trans movement involves girls in their early teens, revealed, with much fanfare, How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids: (Yes. A while back. I’ll explain the delay.)
Two California middle school teachers, Kelly Baraki and Lori Caldeira, of Spreckels Union School District, gave a presentation at an October union conference about their struggles and triumphs running a gay-straight alliance club. Based on the recordings, though, their primary focus appeared to be helping “trans” kids find themselves. Highlights of their claims:
- They advised finding alternate club names (UBU instead of GSA) that didn’t alert parents to the club’s purpose.
- They didn’t keep club meeting rosters to keep parents unaware of their child’s participation.
- They were concerned about club attrition and their efforts to keep the kids motivated and attending the gender awareness clubs.
- They described “stalking” kids’ online activity during the pandemic to identify students who expressed interest in exploring sexuality.
- They discussed the best ways to “integrate” their gender preference instruction into their anti-bullying presentations so the students are less likely to mention it to their parents.
- They mocked parents who complained about their kids being exposed to sex-ed. They crowed that with tenure, the principal might “flinch” but couldn’t respond to parents’ concerns.
- In every way they presented their club as a recruitment project, in which parents were to be ignored and subverted whenever possible.
Shrier, as is evidenced by the title of her piece, characterized their presentation as “insight…into the mindset and tactics of activist teachers themselves.” She saw this presentation as education and instruction.
I read about this at the time and several things immediately seemed obvious, pointing to a real failure on Shrier’s part to do any reporting or analysis.
First, and this is fairly minor but it speaks to the hysteria: Shrier was reading way too much into “union conference”. She clearly sees it as indoctrination. It’s not. Most teachers are required to document seat time for recertification; all of them have to come up with educational credits to move along the pay scale. These union conferences serve as seat time for recertification and, for extra money, can be converted into credits. Plus, Palm Springs! Take the kids, sit by a pool. Nobody–but nobody–sitting in that conference was being educated, advised, or instructed.
Clearly, Shrier didn’t know enough to ask the right questions. Namely, who was paying? Were teachers listening to this swill on district time? Were Caldeira and Baraki getting paid by the district to present? I did some research on union conferences, and am reasonable satisfied that districts don’t pay for teachers to attend. Someone ought to make sure, though.
Regarding the content of the presentation, I was stunned. Tracking kids’ internet activity? Total control over morning announcements? Not keeping attendance at club meetings? Mocking angry parents and gloating that tenure protects them? Smugly talking about the principal “flinching” but being forced to back them?
Why would anyone believe all this?
Teachers can’t hold club meetings and keep them secret. Morning announcements aren’t the personal domain of a teacher. No teacher is stupid enough to think pissed off parents can’t change her existence, especially with a principal who is privately flinching at her behavior but feels forced to comply. Tracking a student’s internet activity…that was so weird I googled and found out about GoGuardian, which freaked me right out, as I teach for one of the 90% of schools who don’t use it. I think it’s only for Chromebooks? And in the classroom I could see it being useful. But either way, I don’t believe any teacher, even one with the worst intentions in the world, could “stalk” kids internet use without singling them out ahead of time or running reports after the fact. No teacher would brag about the first, and there had to be controls on the second, which meant they were lying.
So most of what Caldeira and Baraki were recorded as saying was utter bullshit and obviously, once the tapes came out, these two tearchers were toast. If their presentation was accurate, they’d be fired now that it was public. If they were lying, as seemed likely, they were going to be fired for embarrassing the district.
I commented to this effect on Shrier’s blog. And I was right.
The district, upon learning from Shrier about the recordings, instantly sent out a response, suspending the club, requiring principals to sign off on announcements, and denying some of the claims the teachers made. As I expected, the district emphasized that Baraka and Caldeira were using personal days and not speaking as school representatives. The two teachers were placed on administrative leave while a formal investigation (done by a lawfirm, not the district) took place.
In early July, the lawfirm released the results of a thorough investigation: 1600 documents reviewed, 21 witnesses. The text of the report is very specific on a key point: Baraki and Caldeira made “harmful and disruptive comments” during the presentation that “were not reliable evidence of their actual conduct.”
That is, they lied.
Baraki and Caldeira never put any gender-related comments in the announcements. They didn’t mislead kids during their lessons. While they generated 30 reports of student activity between 2015 and 2019 (which doesn’t strike me as a lot, but I can’t be sure), but all of them had some other purpose. They did notice a student clicking on a link, but never followed up with that student. The only two kids they invited to the club meetings had first approached their teachers about joining.
Baraki and Caldeira resigned and were not fired. They almost certainly would have been, although it might have taken a couple years. But no administrator or district official would forget the shit those two caused by, let’s not forget, lying.
The details were reported sympathetically by the SF Chronicle which talks of the teachers being cleared but glossing over the fact that they lied. Oddly–or maybe not so oddly–Shrier wrote five stories on this in six weeks last winter but hasn’t mentioned this update in three weeks.
Brief aside: this has to be bad news for Jessica Konnen, mother of a former Caldeira student who went through a phase of believing herself transgender while attending the middle school. Konnen was notified by Caldeira and the principal, where the two made it clear that they’d known about this for a long time. After hearing the tapes, she was convinced that Caldeira had unduly influenced her daughter and got lawyer Harmeet Dhillon taking her case against Caldeira and the district, which was filed in June. The recordings were a key part of the evidence and now a law firm investigation has shown the teachers were lying.
What Shrier et al. see as an appalling example of business as usual in our public schools is, in fact, exaggerated or rule-breaking behavior the teachers are bragging about in order to impress their audience.
Of course, that’s still bad. Baraki and Caldeira are bragging to make themselves look good The dreary reality, in their minds, is that school procedures prevent them from finding all the potentially confused kids to straighten out. They don’t have the control they claim to have over morning announcements, student clubs. But they want to project a voice of authority to impress their audience–an audience, they presume, who is excited as they are at finding transgender kids who need their help. You want evidence of a polarized country? There you go. Many people support helping kids find their identities, as they think of it.
But they aren’t the cause! Yes, Baraki and Caldeira want to “find” (convert, to Shrier et al) more transgender students. Yes, they want to run over the rights of concerned parents. Yes, they want to “educate” (indoctrinate) kids by making their club seem exciting, by normalizing gender issues in school, by growing their club. And yes, the union staff setting up the conference see those goals as admirable. All of these are, in my view, horrible objectives and reflect a terrifying mindset.
Except they can’t achieve their goals. School and district policies prevented it. Parents were leery and districts heeded parents. In fact, when the district learned that Baraki bragged about controlling announcements and not keeping a roster, it instantly created policies forbidding that control–policies that normally wouldn’t be needed, because if Baraki had indeed been sliding in propaganda, someone would have noticed. Doesn’t matter. Avoid the risk, mandate signoff. Mandate attendance lists (something common in high school, anyway).
So if the teachers like Baraki and Caldeira have to lie to pretend to have any power, they certainly aren’t the ones preventing parents from being told their kid is transgender. Who’s doing that?
State and federal governments, that’s who.
I’m in this weird situation where I get reviled by progressives for being a hateful anti-trans bigot and yelled at by conservatives for being a pedophile groomer. I think “gender dysphoria” is at best a phase and at worst a mental illness. I am comfortable with finding adults finding whatever gender solution works for them. I am against younger kids taking medical steps. Use of proper pronouns is polite, but should not be required or forced at risk of social and economic obliteration. Any discussion of gender with young kids is wildly inappropriate, whether it’s a doctor, teacher, librarian, or drag queen raising the subject. Kids should not be actively taught about sexuality….ever, as far as I’m concerned. Let them figure it out for themselves. All of this is enough to get me reviled by progressives.
But the people, whatever their ideology, who are appalled by this radical ideology and the insistence on demands and requirements that seem to violate the laws of reality seem to have no idea of what’s causing it and the wrong idea on who to blame. Once again they focus on unions, teachers, ed schools.
Smug parents bragging that they homeschool are fooling themselves. Pediatricians think screening kids for gender is a great idea. If it’s not already a state requirement, just wait. Their churches probably won’t comply but why are so many corporations are coming up with DEI initiatives?
The institutional capture people need to worry about is not teachers and ed schools but state policy makers and legal overreach. If you want to know why schools take a particular action, don’t look to unions but policy, laws, and accreditation–not just of K-12 schools but also colleges, universities, and every organization you can think of. If states don’t play along, the feds can just devise some sort of mandate to qualify for funds.
This article is too long already, but in researching this story, I found a very troubling expansion that may illustrate the real perpetrator. From the most recent Chronicle article on Baraki and Caldeira:
The California Department of Education says that school staff should not disclose information about students’ gender identity without student permission under AB1266, which protects transgender students’ rights and went into law in 2014.
The first link goes to the CDoE policy which is a full page of things California schools must do to support transgender students because of AB1266–including restrictions against telling parents. The second is a link to AB1266 which says that California Education Code 221.5 shall be modified. It’s not specific about the modifications, which necessitates a look back to 221.5 as it existed in 2010 to learn that 221.5 had five clauses, a-e, and AB1266 added one more:
(f) A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.
Well. That’s enough. That’s the wording, undoubtedly enacted in many states, enabling males to compete as females and the bathroom confusion. But there’s no mention of parents.
So the CDoE is attributing a near total mandate forbidding schools from notifying parents (with a few weasel words for cover) and using as its rationale legislation changes that don’t mention parents at all.
Now, go back to the CADoE FAQ and it’s clear that all the legal text added in that section is rationale. Someone took this opportunity to interpret privacy laws and create a whole slew of school mandates that were not in the original legislation. You have to wonder if that’s what Tom Ammiano, the legislative sponsor, had in mind. An attempt to recall the legislation failed.
By the way, this change to California law happened back in 2014. Long before anyone was paying attention.
Think it’s only California and those wacky progressives? Trump SecEd Betsy DeVos resisted his order to change policy on transgender students and bathrooms. GOP bastion South Dakota legislators passed a law to force transgender students to use the bathroom matching their biology in 2016, but the governor, a Republican, vetoed it. Even today, Governor Noem was willing to kiss any shot at the presidency goodbye by vetoing a ban on transgender athletes. I see plenty of GOP opinion folks mocking Rachel Levine; far fewer mocking Dierdre McCloskey.
Understand what forces compelled Noem to veto that law despite the overwhelming support in her state and why DeVos resisted ending transgender access to bathrooms. Accept that people who pushed this started things in motion long before most people were paying attention. Remember that schools, the institutions most subjected to these pressures, still care about parents and political pressure. Push them hard and they’ll close gaps. Ensure minimum compliance with laws and don’t allow overreach.
Untangling this craziness while still allowing self-determination will be a long process and the other side on this has a head start. But there’s an obvious state law that should be made immediately, one that reporters making their bones on transgender outrage should immediately support:
Mandate schools to immediately notify parents should their child express a gender identity different from his or her biological one. Specifically: student confides as transgender to school employee, school employee notifies administrator, form letter goes out to parent. If the school’s opinion is the child would be endangered by parental notification, school notifies child protective services who takes it from there. Schools are not allowed to keep this information from parents.
This is a no-brainer. And quite apart from the logical reasons to support this change, there’s one additional positive side effect: ending or at least wildly curtailing the clubs and activities that seem to encourage student gender confusion. It is perversely easier to force teachers to hide secrets from parents than it is dealing with really pissed off parents blaming the school’s UBU club for their suddenly transgender kid.