Earlier this year, California Democrats quietly introduced a piece of state legislation to amend state law on classroom disruptions. While ostensibly aimed at preventing the “harassment” of school officials, the bill’s real intention is to make examples of parents who dare defend their children against the predations of left-wing ideology.
Democrats introduced Senate Bill 596 in February, accompanied with a short press release but little media fanfare. Now, as the bill appears set to make its way through committee, parental rights activists and experts are sounding the alarm to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
This is completely insane.
A new bill in California, SB596, would make causing a “substantial disorder” at a school board meeting punishable up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.
“Substantial disorder” will be defined as anything the left-wing opponents of parental rights… pic.twitter.com/kO3n2al8wV
— 1776 Project PAC (@1776ProjectPac) August 14, 2023
Wenyuan Wu, executive director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, a parental rights group, spoke to the DCNF about the bill’s real intention. “Criminalizing contest and dissent in local school districts manufactures false accusations of disorderly conduct when concerned parents exercise their constitutional rights and speak up against woke indoctrination. This bill is shamelessly intended to target, intimidate and smear parents and local community members advocating for better education, transparency and accountability.” (RELATED: ‘Smear Parents’: Parental Rights Advocates Sound The Alarm As Bill Targeting Parents Moves Through Legislature)
Yet this is not immediately evident when taking the bill at face value. It proposes misdemeanor charges for any parents who cause a “substantial disorder” somewhere a “school employee is required.” Any parents found guilty of “harassment” or making a “credible threat” will face up to a $1000 fine and one year in prison. According to the press release, the bill will protect “teachers facing harassment and greater scrutiny over lessons taught in the classroom.” However, the bill cannot be separated from its context.
Ten years ago, California Democrats could have conceivably introduced such a bill in good faith. But one must assume they are aware of the backlash against critical race theory and gender ideology in schools. They see grassroots organizations like Moms for Liberty spring up around the country, organizing localized resistance to radical ideologies that confuse and divide children and undermine America’s constitutional principles.
Yet California Democrats, along with the national teachers unions, are determined to teach these topics in schools no matter how much popular resistance they face. Knowing victory cannot be guaranteed through the democratic process, they must delegitimize and demoralize their opponents. The relatively rare — but high profile— cases of violence erupting around school board meetings will be touted as a justification to crack down on a parent movement supposedly growing in extremism.
Police declare an unlawful assembly outside the Glendale unified school board meeting in Los Angeles.
Hundreds of protestors gathered to protest LGBTQ education in schools. A large brawl ensued with counter protestors. At least one arrest made pic.twitter.com/JQX0Bk0K3Z
— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) June 7, 2023
In 18 months between 2021 and 2022, a ProPublica’s nationwide investigation into “school board unrest” uncovered only 59 incidents that resulted in arrests or charges. Most resulted in minor charges or were dismissed entirely. The new legislation will likely change that — not only increasing the number and severity of the arrests, but deterring even well-behaved parents from potential run-ins with the law. But the precision — or lack thereof — in the bill’s language leaves ample room for ideological actors to exploit.
On the one hand, the bill uses highly specific language to target these types of incidents. It would amend an already existing law against disrupting classrooms and extracurricular activities to virtually any event involving school functions. It specifies that disruption of “any meeting of the governing board of a school district, the governing body of a charter school, a county board of education, or the state board” can potentially be charged as a misdemeanor. While this is not directly related to the stated purpose of “protect[ing] teachers,” it conveniently allows authorities to arrest and charge parents at school board meetings, even off campus.
Alternatively, the highly vague language allows broad discretion over what constitutes an offense. As Sarah Perry, a legal expert at the Heritage Foundation, noted to the Daily Signal, “I find it curious that there’s no definition of ‘substantial’ or ‘disruption’ within the proposed text.” (RELATED: Another California School District Approves Policy To Tell Parents If Child Is Trans)
The bill’s definition of “harassment” is equally insidious. Harassment, apparently, is any “knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.” It requires only “two or more acts occurring over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.” As Jim Manley, the state legal policy deputy director at Pacific Legal Foundation, noted, “If you send two emails that cause a school board official to mentally suffer, technically you fall under this definition.”
While the bill has an exemption for “constitutionally protected activity,” it would be naive to believe that Democrats will recover their long lost respect for the First Amendment. More likely, this law would empower blue-haired activists to sick law enforcement on parents who “trigger” them.
A transgender activist could easily feel “tormented” by parents who boldly proclaim there are only two genders; a critical race theorist could feel “terrorized” by a white mother insisting that her child is not an oppressor. These statements would clearly “serve no purpose,” since they are categorically false among California’s leadership class. Parents expressing perfectly normal opinions could face the reputational damage associated with criminal behavior, not only deterring others from speaking out, but delegitimizing the entire movement as intolerably dangerous, unwelcome in polite society. The patina of legal authority in turn reinforces the culture progressive seek to perpetuate.
These standards are so blatantly open to exploitation that it must be assumed this the outcome Democrats are hoping for.