Parents berate VUSD, board members for R-rated event at the Fox

Community members speak out at VUSD meeting over the exposure of material that slipped through the cracks in board approval, allowed individuals to draw their own conclusions from the lack of information

VISALIA– After uproar and pressure from parents ultimately led to the cancellation of an event they found inappropriate, many still have questions about how the event was allowed to be promoted in the first place.

A flyer was made available to students on Mt. Whitney High School’s campus promoting a screening of the 1996 thriller “Scream”, an R rated movie, followed by a drag show at the Fox Theater on Sept. 3. Even though permission slips were required for students to attend the ‘R’ rated movie as it was marketed to 14-17 year-olds, the event was canceled after a social media campaign to boycott the event was spearheaded by local parents and political candidates who called the event inappropriate at best. Community members shared their concerns with Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) board members at their Sept. 13 meeting. 

“Any adult that looks at a child or a minor and says ‘oh, I need to dance and gyrate in front of them,’ they need to be put in jail,” Pamela Silva said during public comment at the board meeting. “And if you allow that again, you need to be put in jail.”

A version of the show was continued elsewhere and Unmask Tulare County administrator Jimmy Malloy expressed his concerns to the board. He presented the board with questions including, why was there an organization on campus promoting inappropriate content to students; how were they allowed to promote the event on campus; have there been any repercussions to the group who circumvented school policy to pass out the flyers; and how will the district prevent this from happening again?

“What grown up consenting adults do behind closed doors is between them and God,” Malloy said. “What is not okay is having groups allowed on campus who target our children with creating identity based on sexuality and gender confusion. This type of action creates more confusion than it rescues students in distress.”

Malloy told the board the community needs answers from VUSD and all the district has done is repeat its inadequate response that the issue has been addressed.

“We need assurances that these things will not be happening, these things that we see happening all over the United States, will not be happening in the largest school district in Tulare County,” Malloy said to conclude his comments.

Though board members do not have the ability to respond to public comment, Superintendent Kirk Shrum began the meeting by attempting to address the issue. 

“We had board policies, specifically board policy 1325 A, which covers advertising and promotion. It spells out a process for approval of items that are distributed on campuses. And in this case, that did not follow policy, and so that situation was addressed,” Shrum said. “We have since informed our administrators and others of our policy to make sure that everyone is clear and understands the importance of following policy, and why we have policy in the first place.”

The way VUSD saw it, they had no control over the event, did not approve or sanction the event and had no connection as it was being hosted off campus by outside sources. Andre Pecina, administrator of communications, strategy and outreach, said the district does not comment on events that are not being held in conjunction with the district. Parents said the issue was not that the district was involved in the event but rather that the event was advertised to students on campus. 

Mt. Whitney’s principal Bob Aguilar said the campus hosted a club rush, where students can sign up for on-campus clubs, during their lunch period the week before the Sept. 3 event. The California Health Collaborative’s HEAL project set up a table for the club rush with a flyer promoting the event. 

“They came through the gate, they had their materials ready to do the club rush on campus to share,” Agular said.   

The California Health Collaborative has a partnership with the district, not individual school sites within the district. They have been in partnership with the county and Visalia’s school district since at least 2008. Pecina said the organization has worked with the district long enough to know better than to provide materials on campus without approval, a violation of Board Policy 1325(a). 

“[VUSD] partners with the California Health Collaborative, and we have done things with tobacco, and some other components with them,” Pecina said. “So they’re a group that is, not within the district, but someone that we’ve worked with in the past or partnered with for quite a few years.”

The staff director for the gay straight alliance (GSA) club at Mt. Whitney High School did not respond as of press time. Members of the California Health Collaborative and the HEAL Project did not respond as of press time, either.

Policy 1325(a), on advertising and promotion, has been in place since 1997, and last revised in 2018. It states “Prior to the distribution, posting, or publishing of any non-school group’s promotional materials or advertisement, the superintendent, principal or designee shall review the materials or advertisement based on the criteria.”

The policy lists 10 criteria in which something can be denied, including “promoting the use or sale of materials or services that are illegal or inconsistent with school objectives, including, but not limited to, materials or advertisements for tobacco, intoxicants and movies or products unsuitable for children.”

In order to attend the screening, students who wanted to participate in the event were required to bring signed parental permission slips. “PARENTAL PERMISSION SLIPS ARE REQUIRED FOR PERSONS 17 AND UNDER!,” The Fox Theatre’s website clearly stated.

Others from the community shared their thoughts at the board meeting as well. Paul Belt, who is running for the school board, brought concerns of students safety, and having individuals on campus without anyone knowing how they got there. 

Aguilar said that the group who came for the club rush, was known through the district, but did not appear on the pre-approved list of clubs. 

When board members were asked about the situation, only Walta Gamoian responded. She said The Source and HEAL provided the flyers and permission slips to students in cooperation with the GSA club at Mt. Whitney High School.

Gamoian received a call from a parent who thought it was inappropriate that students ages 14-17 were invited to an R-rated film. Gamoian then contacted Superintendent Shrum who explained the flyers were in violation of board policy.

“The flyer, however it was there, wasn’t approved, it didn’t go through our process,” Shrum said. “We made sure our administrators were aware of policy, and I consider the matter addressed.”

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