Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
I’m writing in response to Leo Bennett-Cauchon’s letter (“Political Lynching Flap”). I attended the school board meeting where Cauchon held up the knotted rope noose in deliberate conjunction with his accusation of a “political lynching” of Trustee Sam Fant by those criticizing Fant’s actions. After the audience’s overwhelmingly negative reaction and the school board president’s expressed outrage, Cauchon later apologized for his noose stunt. But he essentially gutted his apology by excusing his own actions as merely displaying knots on a rope, a supposed throw-back to his Boy Scout days. That explanation, given the situation’s context, certainly strains credibility.
He claims that reporter Jason Campbell “denies the racism of both the confederate flag and a photo of our President with a head shot”. The actual photo was of a fly, not a bullet hole, but either way, although clearly displaying a lack of respect for the President, one can’t automatically assume, as Cauchon does here, that such disrespect is racist. I know that Debi McLarty is a very conservative Republican who dislikes Obama based on her political views. That is her right, just as those of us who disliked President Bush resorted to pointed ridicule at his expense. Unfortunately, politics is an ugly business. There is no need to throw in accusations of racism to further muddy the waters. The depiction of the confederate flag is a reflection of the Southern heritage and traditions of some, while others understandably view it as a hated symbol of slavery and oppression of blacks. One of our country’s most cherished rights is free speech, yet even this most sacred of rights is not unlimited. We can’t falsely yell “fire!” in a crowded room to cause panic, or use hate speech to incite violence. We have the absolute right to be offended by the free speech expressions of speakers and writers. But equally protected is their unequivocal right to offend us. That is not the issue here. The fact that Trustee Fant was offended by the Facebook posting is not the problem. His passionate opinion on the subject is definitely his right. But his subsequent actions are, indeed, highly questionable.
While Cauchon considers Fant’s actions “concerning the public shaming of the posting of photos he and other blacks view as racist” as his right, I disagree. Perhaps Cauchon will dismiss my concerns as “white insensitivity to our status as the historically privileged class”, but then he would have to ignore my reasoned rebuttal and oversimplify things to a literally “black or white” level. My reason for disagreement is that while all Trustees are entitled to their personal opinions (as are all school district employees), they do not have the right to circumvent established MUSD policies, due process, and procedures that were created to protect employees’ rights. Such violation, no matter the provocation, is clearly wrong. I don’t believe the Facebook postings were intentionally racist, but even if they blatantly included an outrageous picture of KKK clansmen with the caption, “My heroes”, established protections still must be followed. We have laws and policies to guide us, protect us, and establish our rights. They cannot be ignored or disregarded out of personal outrage, without subsequent consequences.
Cauchon tries to mask Fant’s mistakes under such “feel-good” slogans as “cultural sensitivity and awareness” and whip up racial discord with imagined slights. By “imagined slights”, I don’t mean the Facebook pages which obviously do offend some people (regardless of skin color). I mean by claiming that Fant is a victim of political lynching and participating in a Channel 10 News interview that notes a black Trustee is being judged by his white colleagues. Cauchon also inaccurately implies that the push for the school board’s censure of Fant comes from the Superintendent himself, writing, “I continue to label the superintendent’s effort at censure as a “political lynching””.
The subject of censure is not about racism or cultural insensitivity.
Fant is not being judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his actions. He clearly made mistakes and undermined the district’s procedures meant to protect employees’ due process. The Trustees should formally acknowledge that mistakes were made and that the board does not condone such actions. That is the main purpose of censuring.
Maybe Cauchon would understand it better if we took race totally out of the equation. Let’s use the example of Cauchon’s recent difficulty where he was accused of inappropriate physical contact (hugging, kissing) with a special ed student on school grounds. Proper channels were followed in his case and though he resented that the police were notified (a legal requirement), the district and law enforcement investigations were conducted, concluded, and he resumed work. It took longer than he wanted, but it allowed him to get ahead of the story and be the first to break the news of the accusations to the board and public at a school board meeting. He controlled the narrative and helped diffuse a potentially explosive situation, much to his advantage. But let’s say someone saw him kissing a student and captured that on their cell phone. Instead of following the proper chain of command, she directly contacted only one board member. This board member independently went to the Manteca Bulletin to show the Editor the cell phone pictures and ask his opinion. At the next board meeting, the Trustee stepped away from an active meeting to be interviewed by Fox 40 News where he expressed outrage at pedophilia, especially involving our teachers, and stated that there would be a formal investigation. Blindsided by suggestions that he was a pedophile, a trying situation for Cauchon would have been made ten-fold more difficult. This is why the district has procedures in place to deal appropriately with employees. Those procedures were violated by Trustee Fant. What will be the consequences? That is the overriding question and the main focus.