Fresno faith leaders call for removal of school board president Brooke Ashjian

Fresno faith leaders stood outside Fresno Unified headquarters on Monday, calling on trustees to remove school board president Brooke Ashjian, after he likened LGBT advocates to perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide, Fresno Bee reports.

“The longer that the bullying rhetoric of Brooke Ashjian is permitted and tolerated by Fresno Unified board members, the greater the erosion of confidence in the general public will grow,” said Rev. Chris Breedlove, of the Community United Church of Christ.

“Since Ashjian shows no sincere remorse or consideration to step down as Fresno Unified board president, it is therefore incumbent upon the rest of the Fresno Unified school board members to vote out board president Ashjian or seek his removal in an expedient manner. The entire Fresno Unified board is now responsible and possibly liable for the vitriolic and bigoted remarks of (Ashjian.)”

While trustees do not have the authority to remove Ashjian from the board, three of the seven school board members have spoken out against him. Trustee Christopher De La Cerda publicly called for his resignation in an op-ed published by The Bee this month. Trustees Cal Johnson and Valerie Davis said Monday they would support removing him as board president, pointing out that they voted against making him president earlier this year.

“The distraction has been like none I’ve ever seen before,” said Davis, who has served on the board for 13 years. “It’s unnerving, and it has really dominated the beginning of our school year.”

Church leaders at the news conference said they are circulating a petition demanding Ashjian’s resignation that they hope to get on a school board meeting agenda next month, and also are considering starting the recall process. According to Fresno Unified, a trustee can only be removed by a public recall vote or by a judge if it is found they have violated laws.

To hold a recall election, 20 percent of the registered voters living in Ashjian’s Bullard High region would have to sign a petition, meaning at least 7,137 signatures, according to Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth.

“If the number of signatures on the petition meets the legal threshold, then the county elections official would certify the petition to the school board. Typically the school board calls the election,” Orth said in an email. “This process is governed by many legal requirements and usually takes approximately 4-6 months to complete.”

Monday’s news conference was the latest call for Ashjian’s resignation, which started after he made controversial comments about LGBT-inclusive sex education earlier this month: “My biggest fear in teaching this – which we’re going to do it because it’s the law – but you have kids who are extremely moldable at this stage, and if you start telling them that LGBT is OK and that it’s a way of life, well maybe you just swayed the kid to go that way,” Ashjian said. “It’s so important for parents to teach these Judeo-Christian philosophies.”

At a school board meeting last week, Ashjian spurred new concerns after he refused to resign and compared the LGBT advocates calling for his resignation to Ottoman Turks who carried out the Armenian Genocide. Fresno has a large Armenian community, including Ashjian.

“It is sad, they like the Ottomans are trying to be the thought police. They are trying to make people of faith second-class citizens, as they seek to silence our voices in the public square,” Ashjian said Aug. 23. “Just like what my grandparents and millions of other grandparents had to endure at the hands of the Ottomans before escaping to America.”

Bill Knezovich, a pastor at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, said Ashjian’s comments downplay the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, and hurt students.

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