Opponents of ethnic studies curriculum, mask mandates and proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates in schools are seeking to remove Desert Sands Unified School Board trustees in recall elections and are currently circulating petitions to qualify for the ballot.
Pearce said the district's three other trustees — Ana Conover, Don Griffith and Linda Porras — were also served in November by the group behind the petitions, but the paperwork was incorrect. She said they were served by registered mail at the district office, and she was also handed a copy of the paperwork during a board meeting.*
Pearce says she was served again at the district office when a secretary handed her the correct paperwork on Dec. 22 — days after the initial public notice had been published.
Proponents of recall proceedings must gather at least 10 signatures to serve, file and publish a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition, according to the California Secretary of State.
No public notices have yet been published regarding Conover, Griffith and Porras.
Recall proponents, who have a website at dsusdrecall.com, have120 days from the time their petition is certified by an elections official to gather the signatures of at least 20% of the number of registered voters in each of Pearce's and Jonathan's trustee areas in order to move their petitions forward to recall elections.
That would be about 4,000 verified signatures in each area.
The Riverside County Registrar of Voters did not respond to The Desert Sun on Monday to confirm whether the official petition has yet been certified.
Desert Sands Unified is in the process of redistricting based on 2020 Census data. For now, Pearce, a former teacher, represents Trustee Area 3, which includes most of the City of La Quinta. First elected in 2020, Pearce’s term ends in 2024.
Jonathan, also a former teacher and the current board vice president/clerk, represents Trustee Area 1, which includes most of Palm Desert. Jonathan was first elected to the board in 2012. Her current term ends in 2024.
Petition signees argue that trustees ought to be recalled on the grounds of:
failing to defend the U.S. Constitution;
abdicating duties to unelected Sacramento bureaucrats;
“gaslighting” constituents about the curriculum of ethnic studies; and
instituting “mask mandates that are not based on science and are proven to be harmful to children in particular.”
In response to the petition against her, Pearce issued the following statement to The Desert Sun:
"This past two years has been a very difficult time for students, parents, and staff members. Covid has caused many things to change, and I have always been a supporter of safety first for all involved in educating our DSUSD students. I will continue to advocate for the best education for our students amid these uncertain times."
Jonathan wrote in a separate statement:
“This is a time of strong and passionate convictions. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing for our children; an excellent education in a safe and healthy environment. That has been, and always will be, my goal — pre COVID, during COVID, and post COVID.”
Kenny Snell, a teacher on leave from La Quinta High School, administers the paperwork for the recall campaigns and the website dsusdrecall.com. Snell did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Desert Sun.
Snell often speaks at school board meetings against the district's COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which come directly from federal, state and county guidelines.
Several of the petitions' signees have protested COVID-19 health and safety protocols at DSUSD school board meetings since the summer.
Keith Lathrop, who signed Jonathan's recall petition, accused her in November of not standing by her constituents because she had not spoken up against COVID-19 mandates before then.
“I don’t want to make this a personal attack on you, Mrs. Jonathan, but I voted for you mainly because you seemed genuine and you seemed pretty sweet,” Lathrop said.
Later that meeting, however, Jonathan said she would not support COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students or staff and would like the board to reconsider mask mandates in schools.
Per a state mandate, DSUSD teachers must submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or agree to weekly testing.
California's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for middle and high school students will take effect after a COVID-19 vaccine has full approval for that age range, and the mandate for elementary school children will take effect after a vaccine has full approval for younger children.
Based on current information, the requirement is expected to apply to grades 7-12 starting on July 1, and later for younger children, according to the governor's office.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details about when the trustees were notified about the petition and the number of days recall proponents have to gather signatures.
Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Writes_Jonathan.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Group seeking to oust DSUSD trustees via recall elections