The time is up for three Orange County Board of Education trustees that have advocated for parental rights and against COVID-19 mandates in schools. While all three are running the race again, they are up against various challengers.
Candidates had until March 11 to turn in their paperwork to run for a trustee seat that will be on the June 7 primary election ballot.
The current board has been known for pushing back against COVID-19 mandates, critical race theory in school curricula, and California’s ongoing state of emergency. Some opponents of the board have questioned lawsuits filed on behalf of the board challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom and even their county superintendent, Al Mijares.
Board President Mari Barke argues that the lawsuits filed against Newsom were free litigation matters that didn’t consume taxpayer funds. Meanwhile, the legal challenges such as the one against Mijares settled in 2021—which the board won—are necessary to ensure transparency in the ways education matters are handled, Barke said.
“The lawsuits are to protect the rights of parents. No student is going without a textbook because we are suing,” Barke said in response to opponents that have questioned the funds being taken away from schools.
Board trustees have also been in support of expanding school choice and charter schools in the county.
As the election draws near, residents in Districts 2, 4, and 5 will be able to vote for their desired trustee. All three district boundaries shifted during the recent redistricting process.
District 3—which is not up for the upcoming election—split portions of northern Orange County with District 4 while District 2 took over more southern cities such as Irvine and Newport Beach.
District 2 covers the cities of Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, Cypress, Seal Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach, and portions of Fountain Valley. Barke, the incumbent and board president, is running again and facing Martha Fluor and Christopher R. Ganiere.
Mari Barke (Incumbent)
Barke has been serving on the board since 2018. The board president aims to continue her advocacy for parental rights and school choice, a mission she said would not be feasible if the conservative board flips during the election.
The lack of school choice and charter school options are what prompted Barke to run for the board of education, she told The Epoch Times.
“Charter schools give families flexibility, especially when private schools are not an option,” she said.
As the state approves controversial curricula such as sex education and critical race theory, Barke reassures that charter schools moderate the state requirements, only the bare minimum of which are kept in their curricula.
Aside from providing the option to enroll in charter schools, she is also an advocate for allowing parents to transfer their children to other districts that fit their needs.
“The family is always in the best position to make a decision for their child,” Barke said.
Barke has also been hosting public forums about controversial topics to ensure parents know and understand what their children are learning in the classroom.
Barke advocates transparency of the board’s decision-making process and communication between the board and the public, which resulted in the board meeting time being changed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., allowing more parents to be active at meetings.
While some opponents of the current board trustees have questioned the waste of taxpayer funds on lawsuits filed by the board of education, Barke confirmed the multiple legal challenges against the state and Gov. Gavin Newsom to lift the state of emergency were free ligation matters.
Meanwhile, a few other lawsuits were filed to preserve the rights of the board, Barke said, when it comes to approving budgets and the right to choose an attorney.
Martha Fluor (Retired School Board Member)
Fluor is a recently retired Newport Mesa School Board Trustee of 29 years. Her journey in education began when she committed to being a public servant in 1991, her first year as a school board member.
“Ever since then, I’ve been trying to serve the needs of the community while honoring parents [since] they are the first educators. They know their kids,” Fluor told The Epoch Times.
Fluor has simultaneously dedicated her time serving as a Girl Scout leader while also serving as a member of the California School Board Association Board of Directors, where she also held the position of President in 2011.
Despite retiring in 2020 from the Newport Mesa School Board, she has proceeded to serve as the president of a Costa Mesa high school’s parent-teacher association.
If elected, Fluor desires to give more local control to school districts and ensure the board works with them to meet their needs.
With multiple charter schools being approved in the county, Fluor plans on reviewing them thoroughly, especially the ones she claims are not doing well.
Fluor also has concerns about the current board’s lawsuits and shared that she believes the “millions” spent should go towards students and educators.
Fluor’s main goal in serving on the county’s Board of Education is to treat everyone with respect and dignity while ensuring an open and transparent board that operates efficiently, she said.
Christopher R. Ganiere (Architect)
Ganiere is running as an architect. His Linkedin biography reads, “getting involved to help the schools.”
Though Ganiere did not file a candidate statement, he wrote on his Linkedin page on March 12 that he wants to make sure the taxes are supporting all students, regardless of whether they are taking classes in person or whether they are aspiring to attend colleges.
“Treat Homeschoolers like free agents, not radioactive material. Let them join choir, band, sports,” he wrote. “Serve ALL students, that is why we pay the taxes.”
He is also against COVID-19-related mandates at schools while advocating for more school choices and easier transfer and enrollment processes.
“No mask mandates ever again. No closures for unsubstantiated fear. No medical apartheid. Keep medical information private,” he wrote. “Open up enrollment. let parents pick where they want their kids to go. Easy transfers. Less paperwork.”
District 4 covers the cities of Buena Park, Garden Grove, Fullerton, La Habra, Stanton, La Palma, and Stanton. Trustee Tim Shaw is facing challengers Pauline Chaffee, David M. Choi, and Ellisa Kim.
Tim Shaw (Incumbent)
The adjunct professor of Political Science at Rio Hondo College and former La Habra City Councilman of 13 years is running for re-election after winning his seat in 2020.
“I want to [continue] entering into the battle of the education sector and give parents the choice that … are being taken away from [them] in the state,” Shaw told The Epoch Times.
While his seat wasn’t supposed to be up for re-election until 2024, he stepped down in November 2021 due to a legal challenge for simultaneously serving on La Habra City Council.
Shaw was able to reclaim his seat on the board of education in December 2021 after stepping down from the city council, but the circumstances allowed his seat to be up for grabs in the June election.
If re-elected, Shaw said he plans to continue his advocacy for school choice and preserving the rights of parents when it comes to the well-being and education of their children.
Throughout his time on the board, Shaw has pushed back against teaching explicit and “shocking” sexual education and critical race theory in schools. While the county board can’t decide on school curricula, Shaw held public forums to allow parents to be informed and ask questions their children’s education.
Shaw said his most rewarding experiences as a board member came when county parents made transfer requests pleading for the board to allow their children to attend a school that is more convenient for them due to work schedules, transportation issues, and other logistics concerns.
Parents often come to the board “emotionally” after their requests have been denied by their school districts.
“Parents burst into tears and thank us for changing their lives,” he said.
Shaw was encouraged by his colleague Barke to run for the board of education in 2020 and said he hoped to continue “making a difference.”
Paulette Chaffee (Teacher/Non-profit Boardmember)
Chaffee is taking a spin at running for the District 4 seat again after losing to Shaw in 2020. A holder of a lifelong teaching credential from the University of Redlands, she is a former public school teacher, attorney, and speech therapist.
If elected, Chaffee told The Epoch Times she planned to focus on inclusivity, equity, and opportunity. Chaffee wants to help schools in low-income areas provide better opportunities for students.
“I want to ensure there is quality education in every school no matter what zip code the students live in,” Chaffee said.
Critical of the performance of charter schools, Chaffee said she wanted to shift the funds currently granted to charter schools toward other schools in the county to boost support for STEM programs, mental health services, student internships, and more professional learning opportunities for teachers.
Chaffee and her husband, Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee, have a law practice in Fullerton, though currently inactive. She believes her experience can assist with reading legal litigations concerning the board.
She further pledged to do everything she possibly can to get the board’s current lawsuits, which she said are taking away resources from education, withdrawn.
David M. Choi (Accountant)
Choi is running as an accountant. Immediate information is not available regarding Choi’s race.
Ellisa Kim (Business Owner/Parent)
Kim is a parent and business owner in the county that grew up as a daughter of poor first-generation immigrants, according to her ballot statement. She believes her background and education equipped her with a “unique perspective during this uncertain time,” Kim wrote.
In District 5, which covers southern Orange County cities, board trustee Lisa Sparks faces Sherine Smith, the former superintendent of the Laguna Beach Unified School District.
Lisa Sparks (Incumbent)
Sparks, Inaugural Dean of the School of Communication and Endowed Professor at Chapman University, won her current seat in 2018.
For the past four years, Sparks has been pushing for school choice while fighting for parental rights and ensuring teachers have the resources they need—a journey she hopes to continue, she told The Epoch Times.
Like many of her colleagues up for re-election, Sparks has been shedding the light on issues many parents weren’t aware of, such as sex education and the critical race theory curriculum.
“Parents need to know what their students are learning beyond a sample powerpoint presented by districts,” Sparks said. “Parents should have an involvement and work with their teachers and not feel like the system is working against them.”
As the controversial curriculum begins to take root within schools, Sparks believes that educators should teach children how to think and not what to think.
“We need to teach K–12 students to be critical thinkers,” she said. “They need age-appropriate material that will prepare them either for university or the workforce, and they need to have an accurate teaching of all the core subject matters.”
Sparks hopes to continue advocating for parental rights when it comes to their children’s education and various COVID-19 mandates.
“We should not be mandated to do anything that goes against our values,” she said. “We need to get rid of politics and really focus on the kids when you see this assertion of political activity inside and outside the classroom, it’s just unacceptable.”
Sherine Smith (Retired School Superintendent)
Smith has a history of serving in public education, as a former teacher, principal, and superintendent of Laguna Beach Unified School District, according to her ballot statement.
Smith said that she would expand career technical training for high school students and ensure that campuses remain safe with proper ventilation, additional supervision, and regular safety drills.
The former school superintendent also pledged to “stand up to the career politicians who have squandered millions of taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits” and redirect the funds to support programs, training, and smaller class sizes, according to her ballot statement.