Tempers flare over Silicon Valley school district map

A recent Silicon Valley school board meeting erupted into yelling, chanting and an arrest over changes to trustee elections.

The Fremont Union High School District (FUHSD) board of trustees unanimously finalized the switch from "at large" to by-area trustee elections on April 24. 

Starting this November, voters will elect trustees by area to avoid a potential lawsuit for violating the California Voting Rights Act by possibly denying marginalized residents equal representation. The switch marks a historic decision to eliminate the "at large" trustee approach. The district serves roughly 9,000 students from parts of Sunnyvale, Cupertino, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Mountain View and Los Altos.

The decision created controversy among parents over how the district and Community Trustee Area Districting Committee revised the district's political boundaries

Roughly 90 people signed up to speak during public comment, touting homemade signs adorned with their preferred map, shouting "postpone" and yelling over the arrest of a parent who went over his allotted time to speak and refused to leave when asked.

Out of three recommended options, the crowd was divided between a revised map five and map six -- with the board unanimously voting for map five. That map keeps smaller communities together, but splits South Sunnyvale -- distributing the population the most evenly out of the three options. Each area has two to three school attendance zones

Map six divided some neighborhood communities such as Rancho Rinconada and would have kept Fremont High School in one district. Both maps kept an Asian majority in Districts 1, 3 and 5 and prioritized the Latino vote, a protected group that resides predominantly in North Sunnyvale in District 2.

Hui Liu, parent of a Monta Vista High School student, advocated for map six, which he felt benefitted his child's high school. He said the board didn't listen to residents calling to postpone the change and brought up fears of a school closure due to declining enrollment -- similar to the rapid closure of two elementary schools in the Cupertino Union School District in 2021, a feeder school to the high school district -- which the FUHSD has denied.

"My feeling is those board members do not consider regular citizens' comments actually," he told San Jose Spotlight. "They claim (it will) benefit Latinos in northern (Sunnyvale), but how many Latinos (are) there?"

One parent whose children will attend Lynbrook High School said at the meeting she doesn't want her children and their friends to be divided by district lines, even though it won't affect where they go to school. She spoke in support of map five.

"We moved to this district and we want the stable friendship, want them to grow up together with their friends. We don't want to be (politically) split," she said.

The decision to switch from "at large" to area elections began last March, when trustees unanimously voted to move forward with the change, citing the California Voting Rights Act. The district then recruited community members, including an elected official, to serve on the Community Trustee Area Districting Committee and create map options

The chosen map will go to Santa Clara County's Committee on School District Organization in May for final approval. Districts 2 and 5 will be up for election using the new system as the terms for Trustees Rod Sinks and Jeff Moe, who also serves as board president, expire

North Sunnyvale resident Peggy Shen Brewster, founder of community organization Sunnyvale Equity in Education and whose children will attend high school in the district, said she's glad the decision is over. She said it gives North Sunnyvale representation it hasn't had in decades, since the district closed Sunnyvale High School in 1981.

"People had their say, there were a lot of big emotions and everything's fine. The world didn't implode," she told San Jose Spotlight. "This was the right move and it's done. And now we get (more) equal representation."

Sinks said he hopes the board's decision will help sew the community back together, slowly but surely.

 "We want the focus of our governance and the focus of our parents, the focus of the students to be on being part of a successful and thriving school district rather than focus on pitting one school or two schools against another," he told San Jose Spotlight.

This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight.