A high school teacher in Salinas Valley has quit her job and moved out of state over what she called “leftist indoctrination” of students in California classrooms through “ethnic studies” programs.
Kali Fontanilla, 39, told The Epoch Times that she taught in the state for about 15 years, but left her teaching position at Rancho San Juan High School in Salinas, California, and moved to Florida this year after being threatened and bullied on social media for opposing critical race theory (CRT) components in the ethnic studies program and denouncing the group Black Lives Matter (BLM).
“When all the BLM riots started happening, I started very publicly speaking against the organization, basically saying they’re calling to abolish the police and defund the police,” Fontanilla said. “I got called a rightwing piece of [expletive] and all kinds of stuff.”
Officials at the Salinas Union High School District (SUHSD) have repeatedly denied that its ethnic studies curriculum is based on CRT. However, some parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens joined Fontanilla in speaking out and showed up at a recent board meeting to oppose the curriculum.
Fontanilla wrote a letter to SUHSD that was read aloud in public comments at the school board meeting on June 22.
“I’m a minority voice, not because I’m a black teacher, but because I believe that allowing all of this CRT and BLM indoctrination in the classroom is unbalanced, too political, and will only do more harm in race relations and alienating our students that may not agree with these movements,” she wrote. “I’m a minority because I cannot speak out against this without fear of consequence.
“I have seen lessons given to our students that glorify the founder of BLM’s Patrisse Cullors even though she’s an admitted trained Marxist, practices hate speech against all police officers, and is the founder of a far-left organization.”
According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, CRT originally developed from critical legal studies, which formed in the 1970s. As described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, critical theories are largely rooted in ideas inspired by Marxism, with stated objectives such as “explain[ing] what is wrong with current social reality” and providing “achievable practical goals for social transformation.”
While Marx focused on class struggles between the “bourgeois” and the “proletariat,” CRT focuses on the struggle between white “oppressors” and “oppressed” other races.
In recent years, CRT has gained support among left-wing activist groups, academia, and some government representatives. But many other activists, intellectuals, and parents of school children are increasingly speaking out against CRT. Several states have banned CRT in public schools and other government institutions.
Cullors created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and co-founded BLM with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in 2013. In a 2018 interview with Democracy Now, she said her “mentor” is Eric Mann, a member of the radical-left militant groups Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground, which bombed government buildings and police stations in the 1960s and 1970s.
In a 2015 interview with Jared Ball of The Real News, Cullors said: “We actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia, in particular, are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories, and I think that what we really tried to do is build a movement that could be utilized by many, many black folk.”
Cullors abruptly resigned from the BLM Global Network Foundation in May in the wake of allegations that BLM has funneled money to an art business managed by the father of her child, and that Cullors had spent $3.2 million to purchase four homes across the country since 2016.
For more than a year, Fontanilla said she noticed California schools “completely embraced” BLM “without questioning” it.
“Parents need to know what’s happening in our schools. It’s being snuck into their homeroom and also under the guise of ethnic studies,” she said.
Fontanilla said that one of the ethnic studies lessons from SUHSD asks students to rank their “privilege” and divide themselves into groups of “oppressors” and “oppressed.” Students are also asked the loaded question of what they will do to support BLM.
Fontanilla said the students are “held hostage” because they can’t opt-out of the classes.
A piece of proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 101 (AB 101), would make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement in California. The state Assembly voted 58–9 in favor of the bill in May, moving it forward in the legislative process.
Voices of Monterey Bay
Fontanilla also criticized the Voices of Monterey Bay, which bills itself as a “not-for-profit bilingual news organization serving Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.” But some opponents have called it a leftist activist group that has entered into an agreement with SUHSD to work with students.
“I have researched the organization that you want to pay to teach our students, Voices of Monterey, that dox police officers before they even get a chance for a fair trial. They have called to defund police and have sponsored a replacement organization for the police,” Fontanilla wrote in her letter.
SUHSD Superintendent Dan Burns said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times that Voices of Monterey Bay is a local online news service that’s “renting a classroom on one of the campuses to provide their annual journalism boot camp for students who sign up.”
Burns said that “attendees” at the meeting “misrepresented the agreement” with Voices of Monterey Bay.
“Their false accusation was that they would use the space to teach CRT,” he said.
A Memorandum of Understanding states that the district will provide two classrooms “free of charge” and that Voices of Monterey Bay will provide the journalism curriculum.
Parent and CRT opponent Kelly Schenkoske told The Epoch Times that Voices of Monterey Bay isn’t teaching fair and balanced news reporting, but promoting “political activism” masquerading as journalism.
“This district doesn’t want the truth to get out,” she said.
‘Black Educators Matter’
Fontanilla advised the board to reconsider its support of the “divisive teachings” of the ethnic studies program.
“I have decided to resign from the district which is the only reason I feel brave enough to speak up without fear of repercussions,” she said. “I believe the district should refocus on making sure our kids are reading at grade level rather than the leftist indoctrination.”
“To illustrate how counterproductive this has become, I received a gift from the district just for being a black teacher that was the most insulting gift I ever received.”
The gifts consisted of expired Avon products and a mask that said Black Educators Matter, she said in the letter.
“What if a white teacher had a mask that stated, ‘White Teachers Matter?’” she asked.
“It had a letter that had pagan religious reading about how I’m a god, some dollar store hand sanitizer, and an ‘I Love Being Black’ sticker with the BLM fist,” she said.
Fontanilla later told The Epoch Times that “it was a really weird gift” because she was considered a black teacher at the school.
“I’m Jamaican and white,” she said.
Fontanilla also noted that she was troubled by the differential treatment she received from the district.
“I do not appreciate constantly being pandered to and treated differently because of the color of my skin especially since I did not have the freedom to not go along with it. So please keep the CRT BLM Voices of Monterey far-left indoctrination out of our schools,” she wrote in her letter to the board.
Several people in the crowd cheered after the letter was read. One person shouted, “Bring her back!”
‘CRT Does Not Have a Single Definition’
Burns denied that the ethnic studies curriculum is based on CRT in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times.
“The course was not developed based on Critical Race Theory,” he said.
“CRT does not have a single definition, and what is lost in ideological interpretation is why schools are offering this course.”
That comment leaves open the possibility of significant overlap between the curriculum and ideas often associated with CRT.
Burns said that the district approved ethnic studies as an elective course three years ago, after five years of research and development.
“Subsequently, after additional research, stakeholder feedback, and alignment with the California Ethnic Studies Model curriculum, the Board of Trustees approved a one-semester Ethnic Studies course as a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2024,” he said.
Burns said that the ethnic studies course wasn’t designed and approved based on CRT.
“But as aligned with the State Framework, CRT is addressed in our course as one of the frameworks within the K-12 Ethnic Studies Outcomes list,” he said.
That framework includes:
1. Pursuit of justice and equity;
2. Working toward greater inclusivity;
3. Furthering self-understanding;
4. Developing a better understanding of others;
5. Recognizing intersectionality;
6. Promoting self-empowerment for civic engagement;
7. Supporting a community focus; and
8. Developing interpersonal communication
Burns added that 9th-grade students within the district completed the required ethnic studies course this year “without issue or controversy.”
‘Hiding in Plain Sight’
BLEXIT California state director Barbara George said that CRT is “clearly” part of the ethnic studies program, whether school administrators choose to admit it or not.
They’re “hiding it in plain sight,” she told The Epoch Times. It’s like watching a court case in which there is clear video evidence of a defendant committing a crime, and they tell the judge, “It wasn’t me.”
“They’re saying it’s not in there, and you look at the document. You’re like ‘Well, no. It’s right here’ in the very document they sent you,” George said.
Fontanilla said the content in the curriculum speaks for itself. For example, the lessons on “privilege” are evidence that CRT is pervasive throughout the ethnic studies curriculum, she said.
On day five of the lesson plans, students are asked to participate in a “privilege challenge,” in which they’re asked questions such as whether they are an English learner or if they’ve come from a family where someone has graduated from college, to rank who is privileged and who is not.
“And the kids are supposed to reflect about that,” Fontanilla said.
“And in that same lesson, they have a picture of two white girls who have graduated college.” The caption for the picture reads: “PRIVILEGE. It’s amazing how many people in this world are born at third base and think they’ve hit a triple.”
Images and documents obtained by The Epoch Times indicate the “two white girls” are former Republican President George W. Bush’s daughters speaking at Pennsylvania State University. The lesson highlights “privilege” as a vocabulary word defined as “a benefit some get and others don’t.”
Reinforcing these kinds of racial stereotypes is dangerous, insulting, and “psychologically abusive,” especially for white students who grew poor with weak family support structures, she said.
The pressure to embrace CRT is coming from activists, the media, political leaders, labor unions, and teachers themselves, she said.
“It’s coming from the teachers. It’s not coming from the parents,” Fontanilla said. “No parent is demanding CRT in the schools, at least from what I see.”
It’s naïve to think ethnic studies is simply learning about all the different cultures in the United States and the world, she suggested.
“If the school is requiring ethnic studies to graduate, then they don’t have a choice. Parents should have a choice, and they should be able to opt-out and not have their students take this class.”
Accusations of Racism
Phillip Tabera, SUHSD president and professor of ethnic studies who recently retired from San Jose State University, criticized CRT opponents at the recent board meeting.
“I was just given emeritus status as a professor of Chicano history and ethnic studies,” he said. “I’ve only had one person run against me, and I’ve been on the board for over 20 years.”
“When I hear some of the things I heard tonight … I’m very worried because some people in this room don’t know what they’re talking about. They haven’t done the research.”
Some CRT opponents attending the meeting laughed at Tabera’s statement.
“You can laugh. You can say whatever you want. I don’t really care. I’m not here to respond to you,” he said.
“And it’s scary. The last time I heard this kind of a response was when I was a kid … standing over there in front of the county jail when they locked up Cesar Chavez. None of you were out there. Nobody in this room was there that night. But I was there as a 17-year old kid from Alisal High School.”
“You are the racist,” One CRT opponent shouted at Tabera.
“You are,” Tabera responded.
The next day, Tabera posted on Facebook, “The anti people of color came out last night…” along with a link to a video of the meeting.
Fontanilla and other CRT opponents told The Epoch Times Tabera’s response was inappropriate and inflammatory.
“What really, really made me angry afterwards was that the board president said, ‘the anti-people of color came out last night’ and there was a black man [Gabriel Williams] there speaking against CRT,” Fontanilla said. “I was speaking against it and it’s so insulting and demeaning to say that we are ‘anti-people of color.’ We are people of color.”
Williams is a youth pastor who has counseled students through his ministry. He told The Epoch Times on June 28, that racial tension between white and Hispanic people in Salinas Valley has escalated.
“You can feel it,” he said.
Some of that tension is reflected on the school board, he said.
“You’ve got these board members who have agendas and are really playing the race game to further their agenda. And, at the end of the day, it all goes back to Marxism in my opinion. You’ve got people who want to reshape this country,” Williams said.
“Minds are powerful. You can shape a generation if you get control of their minds and start programming people, and that’s what I feel they’re trying to do. Where is it written that the United States of America is supposed to last forever? You have to fight for these freedoms and these values that we have. They have to be passed on.”
Though Tabera suggested that opponents who spoke up against the ethnic studies program are against people of color, “there were no racist people there in that crowd,” Williams said.
“They were just concerned parents and citizens of Monterey County.”
Williams said it’s not the students who are creating the racial tension in the community; it’s the adults.
“The cool thing about kids and teenagers is they don’t see race, man,” he said. “It’s the last thing on their minds. They want to be a part of a community; they want to be a part of people where they are loved and accepted. It’s the adults that are making a big deal out of race, race, race, race, race.”
Williams said that the country has become so divided over issues about race that civil discourse has become “a lost art.” He has difficulty talking to many friends and family members.
“Don’t get me started on Black Lives Matter. The people at the top of that movement are racist themselves,” he said.
‘A Political Agenda’?
At the June 22 meeting, Schenkoske said that the ethnic studies program promotes a BLM unity chant.
Parent Michael Lipe accused the school board and administration of becoming “an activist group facilitating a political agenda.”
The board’s political agenda “is so clearly rooted in racism, that there’s no other options for you other than to step down,” Lipe shouted at board members.
“How racist can this administration and board be to promote the idea that because you are white, you are more capable of achievement than people of color?” he asked.
Another CRT opponent, Donna Hollenstain, 79, whose family has lived in the region for a century, told The Epoch Times that she’s witnessed the leftist indoctrination of her children and grandchildren since the late 1960s and early ’70s.
“It’s far worse now,” she said.
At the meeting, she scolded board members, accusing them of destroying bonds of love and trust between children.
“I am appalled to think that you are entertaining the idea of putting this kind of garbage into our children’s minds. Our children grow up together and have friendships, people that they love and trust who are of different nationalities,” she said.
“And then, they’re being told through these new CRT requirements that they’re the oppressor and the other one is the victim. What on Earth are you people thinking? Are you trying to destroy the innocence of our children?”
She urged the board to withdraw its support for the ethnic studies curriculum.
Williams said he’s “just amazed” that many people have failed to research CRT and the ethnic studies program.
A telling moment was when one opponent asked the board how many of them had read the ethnic studies curriculum and only three raised their hands, Williams said.
However, like other CRT opponents, he said school officials are “really good at hiding” the full curriculum from parents.
“If you go and ask for a particular curriculum, if you don’t ask for the supplementals, you’re not going to get the whole thing,” Williams said. “You’ve got to start peeling back the onion and start seeing all these different layers. It’s pretty unbelievable.”
At the June 22 meeting, Williams urged the school board to research and dig deeper into the underpinnings of CRT.
“Look into its roots, where it comes from, what’s at its core, and it’s not good stuff,” he told the board.
“There’s a lot of emotion in this room right now. There has been a lot of emotion in our country. These past several years. All of it has centered around race. We’ve seen riots, we’ve seen protests. We’ve seen organizations, Black Lives Matter, rise and come to power and become a very powerful voice, in our society.
“The heartbreaking thing for me as a black man, as an African American who loves his country [is] I was raised by my parents not to see race.
“At the end of the day, a house divided cannot stand. Whether you’re black, white, Republican, Democrat, we’re all Americans, and we should want to be doing the best that we can to inspire the next generation to continue to love this country and love each other, not hate each other.”
Fontanilla shared similar sentiments.
“Most people on the left don’t have bad intentions. I truly believe that they think they’re doing something good. But the proof is in the pudding. It’s causing more division,” Fontanilla said.
“I’ve never seen America so divided in my lifetime. I’ve never had so much hate speech for just simply speaking against something in my life either. It’s really damaging … and I think we need to just take a step back and stop.”