Indivisible: Conejo Weekly Newsletter

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Congresswoman Brownley Joins Indivisible: Conejo to Defend the ACA ONCE MORE

More than 40 activists from all over Ventura County rallied in front of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza last Saturday as part of a national Day of Action to protect the Affordable Care Act. Representatives from Indivisible: Conejo, SWAN, Indivisible Ventura, and Indivisible Ojai protested the most recent attack on healthcare and listened to Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Ventura) and other activists talk about the importance of defeating Senate Republicans' last-ditch Graham-Cassidy bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the bill on Tuesday -- though he vowed that Republicans will not give up their attempts to repeal the ACA.


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School Board Extremists Still Pursuing
Censorship  Via Curriculum 'Opt-Out'

After a summer of skirmishes -- many of them with Indivisible: Conejo activists -- over supposed "pornography" in Sherman Alexie's young-adult novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," conservatives on the Conejo Valley Unified School District's board of trustees have entered the fall prepared to take on the entire English-literature curriculum. Their entry point for doing so is a move to encourage more parents to "opt out" of having their students read books they find offensive -- and on Monday, September 25, they summoned teachers and community members to participate in a special "discussion" meeting to open the debate on whether the district's current opt-out practice can and should be turned into official policy.

The English Department chairpersons from all three CVUSD high schools, and other English teachers, were brilliant as they schooled the board members on the process of teaching literature to high schoolers -- including helping students (and parents) navigate materials that challenge their worldview or trigger difficult memories. In response to right-wing board members' queries on the sorts of language and themes that have prompted opt-out requests in the past, the teachers impressed with their professionalism as they walked the trustees through the task of placing difficult subject matter in proper context.

On the other side of the meeting's square table, each of the board's three conservatives betrayed ignorance of the teaching process, an extremist predilection for keeping challenging books out of students' hands, and a general detachment from reality. For example, Sandee Everett suggested that potentially offensive books could be marked on the Core Lit list with a simple asterisk -- with no context provided. She also suggested that parents should be able to arrange an opt-out via a simple email notification -- a far cry from the current process, which requires a discussion of the book with the teacher and perhaps the principal as well.

Meanwhile, John Andersen's opt-out proposal includes a demand that teachers provide "equal education time and rigor for all students and all books" -- but teachers understandably insist that this would be impossible. Currently, a student whose parents have requested an alternate assignment completes it as independent study, often missing days or even weeks of class time while his teacher and classmates participate in the discussions that build a thorough understanding of a novel. That experience cannot be replicated while sitting in the school library, and teachers cannot be expected to duplicate it for one student (or a few) who opted out of the primary curriculum.

Unsurprisingly, board president Mike Dunn attempted to pull a bait-and-switch late in the meeting -- seeming to propose the creation of a committee with a much broader mandate than merely debating an opt-out policy. His imprecise remarks appeared to suggest the committee should reassess the entire process by which teachers and other experts approve titles for the Core Literature curriculum. Trustee Betsy Connolly, who spoke so powerfully about the board's dysfunction during Indivisible: Conejo's September 10 meeting, confirmed with her other colleagues that they had no intention of expanding the committee's scope. But when she confronted Dunn with the question of whether that was his intention, he petulantly said, "From my own point of view, maybe, maybe not."

The opt-out question now moves into what promises to be a lengthy committee process, the shape of which may be finalized through a board vote this coming Tuesday, October 3. Some key questions to be answered as it unfolds include:

  • Will the language of any new opt-out policy be acceptable under state education policies, which allow opt-outs only in the areas of sex education, HIV/AIDS awareness, and optional surveys.?
  • Will such a policy make opting out too easy & attractive for parents?
  • How much instruction will teachers be required to provide for students whose parents demand an alternative book selection?
  • Will the drama generated by this continuing debate create an environment in which teachers are intimidated away from including "controversial" books in their course plans -- or in which it becomes impossible for them to teach those books effectively?
  • If the district encourages conservative parents to opt their students out of Core Literature titles, will parents then believe they can shield their students from learning about scientific and historical topics they might find "offensive" for religious or political reasons?
  • Most immediately, when will the teachers who want to teach "Part-Time Indian" -- and there are a number who wish to do so, at all three CVUSD high schools -- be allowed to order the book and begin using it in their classrooms? Currently, a "hold" seems to have been placed on orders of the book at the district level.

Indivisible: Conejo's First Amendment team has developed and distributed an action plan of Letters to the Editor and direct messages to school board members, along with talking points that will make it easier and more effective for activists to engage. If you are interested in participating, but are not a member of the First Amendment team, please contact Jon Cummings to receive those talking points and other suggestions. 


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California Calvary to the Rescue! Let's Help

Flip Virginia's Legislature This November

Virginia will elect a new state legislature and governor on November 7 -- it is one of two states that vote in odd-numbered years -- and the state's Democrats have asked for our help. Indivisible: Conejo co-founder Gina Muscatel has been working directly with the Virginia Coordinated Campaign to plan local efforts. "These races in Virginia this year are going to be important to the country as a whole in 2018 and 2020," she says. "The party that controls the state controls who votes. To stop Republicans from engaging in voter suppression and gerrymandering, we need to help Virginia go blue in November."

Our organizing counterpart in Virginia is Out-of-District Field Organizer Amrietha Nellan, who says Indivisible: Conejo's calls into the state will free up precious resources for their campaigns. "Having your callers in California identify undecided voters by phone means that we can better direct our local volunteers to visit the right voters in person, and have those important face-to-face conversations where they'll make the most difference."

To accomplish this, Nellan has designed a targeted Virtual Phone Bank allowing Indivisible: Conejo activists to call into a specific district during each event we hold. We will provide comprehensive materials about each candidate -- including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam -- alongside our standard caller training.

Phone banks are scheduled for the next five Thursday afternoons, timed to catch voters at home; as well as two Saturday phone banks to accommodate Indivisible: Conejo volunteers who work during the week. Then, to motivate Virginians to get to the polls on Election Day, we'll engage in an intensive get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort, including early-morning shifts on November 7 that will allow our local volunteers to stop in on their way to work.

Sign up here for the Thursday or Saturday phone banks, and here for the GOTV events. While the GOTV events have a confirmed location, hosts for the Thursday and Saturday phone banks are still needed, so we're looking for volunteers to step up and welcome callers into their homes. Not everyone wants to make phone calls, but you can still be an enormous help by hosting! To host a phone bank, please sign up here.


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Indivisible: Conejo Tees -- Final Week to Order!

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We're now taking orders ONE MORE WEEK for stylish Indivisible: Conejo tee-shirts in a variety of colors and cuts! Unisex crew shirts are available, as well as women's-cut crews and v-necks. Available colors are navy/midnight blue, white, gray and black. Available sizes range from Small to 5XL!

We are selling these shirts AT OUR COST -- not as a fundraiser. Assuming we place a minimum order, the cost per shirt is $13, payable with CASH ONLY upon receipt of your order. Please use this form -- https://goo.gl/forms/vX5rkTMukm3OUjEH3 -- BY SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7, and we'll make sure your request is included in our first group order!

NOTE: PLEASE SUBMIT A SEPARATE FORM FOR EACH SHIRT DESIRED.


MARK YOUR CALENDAR!



Upcoming Issue Action Team Meetings


NEWS FROM THE ISSUE ACTION TEAMS
 

Is there a group below whose work you'd like to join? Take a moment to fill out our "Join Us" form so you can stay in touch with the issues that concern you.
 

Swing District/2018 Election

After extensive election calendar planning, the team has decided to direct its efforts toward this November's Virginia gubernatorial and legislative elections, and then on to supporting Democrat Doug Jones as he squares off against perennial deplorable Judge Roy Moore in December's special election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama. Next year, the team remains committed to its efforts in congressional districts 25 and 22. Simi Valley Democratic Club Vice President John Casselberry suggested the team expand its efforts to include the California 38th Assembly District and the Ventura Fourth Supervisory District races. Finally, Julie Diaz Martinez made an excellent case to add Congressional District 21 to the team's portfolio. At its most recent meeting, political science professor Jose Marichal of California Lutheran University reviewed crucial research regarding Latino voter engagement in CD25.

 

Disability Rights

The team continues to advocate for CalABLE and ESSA, while working in its spare time to save Medicaid. In an upcoming meeting with Congresswoman Brownley's office, team members will discuss HR620's attempts to chip away the foundation of the ADA; the Disability Integration Act; and funding for IDEA.  The team continues to recruit members who want to participate in improving and reshaping practices, policies and attitudes in educating the exceptional children in our local school districts. The next twelve months present a unique opportunity to seize on upcoming school board elections and a vacant CVUSD superintendent seat, and enact needed change.

 

First Amendment

In addition to the swirl of controversy surrounding the Conejo Valley Unified School District's Core Literature curriculum (see above), the First Amendment team is following issues both national and local. Alabama's U.S. Senate race features a true First Amendment opponent, Republican Roy Moore, who became a Christian-right hero by defying federal court orders on two occasions -- first refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the statehouse lawn, then refusing to enforce the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The team also is following the growing dispute between President Trump and NFL players and owners over the players' National Anthem protests. Locally, the team is tracking pastor/city councilman Rob McCoy's "American Legacy" lectures, a weekly course in revisionist (and Christian-dominionist) civics and history lessons being offered at his Godspeak Calvary church in Newbury Park. (Videos of the lectures can be seen here.) Finally, the team is monitoring the conservative group "Unified Conejo," which has organized (and so cleverly named itself!) in opposition to Indivisible: Conejo's advocacy surrounding CVUSD censorship.