Students and teachers demonstrating at the Clark County School District administrative building. (Photo: Carrie Kaufman)
Policy, politics and progressive commentary
One of the things Clark County School Board Trustee Linda Cavazos says she is proudest of as a board member is the passage of a gender-identity policy in 2018 that gave principals guidelines for addressing issues like bathroom and locker room usage for trans and other gender diverse students.
Cavazos also said she is proud to have led the push last year to pass a resolution directing all Clark County School District schools to distribute in their registration packets a letter explaining the importance of safe gun storage.
Both the gender-identity policy and the safe gun storage resolution narrowly passed the seven-member board. Both drew high praise and high criticism from the public. But Cavazos remains outspoken in her position on both issues, even — and especially — as she runs this year for another four-year term against six challengers.
“In my private practice, and with friends’ children also, I knew some of the obstacles and some of the challenges that these gender diverse children were facing — not only in the environment but through lack of knowledge,” said Cavazos, a family therapist. “People didn’t understand. (People didn’t understand how to) handle it if someone wanted to be called by a different name or pronouns. … That gender diverse policy is something I’m very proud of.”
Cavazos is also an longtime gun safety advocate who has spoken about losing her brother to suicide by gun and has specialized in working with parents who’ve lost their children to accidental shootings or had their children kill or harm others with an unsecured firearm.
Her unwavering commitment to such issues has gained her favor with some of the K-12 community and earned her recognition from groups like the Nevada Alliance for Student Diversity, which gave her an award earlier this year. But it’s also made her a prime target for conservatives who wish to tip the school board away from embracing such issues.
“I believe our state and our country needs to be made up of family units with kids who have father and a mother, and students who are wanting to engage in a family unit and not one night stand and hook up,” said JC Carlo, a formerly incarcerated teen turned born again Christian now running to replace Cavazos. “She’s rooting for transgender rights. … I’m trying to protect men from entering young women’s locker rooms. Transgender athletes. I’m trying to prevent all of that.”
Carlo says fixing the budget should be the school board’s number one priority, but he is best known in local K-12 circles as a man who showed up to a school board meeting wearing a confederate flag as a cape. He also made headlines after being recorded in a church saying that “homosexuals cannot procreate. This goes against our Constitution and this goes against what parents want in the school district.”
Candidate Adam LaRosa on his campaign website says that the mandates prompted him to become more active in his community and “to pay closer attention to what was going on around his family.” He began homeschooling his children after the pandemic shut down schools and his logistics job. He “refused to allow them to return as long as the mask mandates remained in place.”
LaRosa on social media in April threatened to “file charges against these perverts” — referring to the trustees who voted to approve sex education curriculum. He’s also referenced “the indoctrination” of students by CCSD and said that the pandemic “has been utilized as an authoritarian control in modern society.”
He continued, “every time a politician uses that word, the citizens’ ears should perk up to find out what freedoms they are about to attempt to take from you.”
Candidate KC Freels said he believes Cavazos in particular is “very obsessed with ideologies that aren’t what schools should be about.”
“If you’ve got a child that believes they have a gender identity problem, inside their own family is where they should deal with it,” he said. “These are largely sexually charged topics when it comes down to it. You’re talking about ‘who do I want to rub up against.’ That’s not an appropriate subject for schools. End of story.”
Freels says he was compelled to run for office after witnessing his 7-year-old neurodiverse son endure the year of mandatory distance learning: “They presented this as school when it wasn’t. People with doctorates and masters thought it was a good idea. It frustrated me to the degree that I thought everyone involved should be fired.”
Cavazos served as president for much of the pandemic, when the board dealt with high-profile votes regarding school closures, school reopening, mask policies and vaccine mandates.
While LaRosa, Freels and Carlo have gained some notoriety for their far-right positions, not everyone challenging Cavazos this year is as outspoken about their positions on largely partisan social issues.
Retiree Greg Wieman,who spent 38 years working for public schools as a teacher and principal, emphasizes a rejection of what he sees as “blind partisan support” on both sides of the political spectrum. He says he isn’t a Republican or a Democrat but instead “a consensus builder” who would see his role as a trustee to support public education from threats from privatization.
CCSD, Wieman says, doesn’t do a good enough job communicating why certain policies exist and why decisions are made. As an example, he points to recent outcry over restorative justice, which he describes as “failed policy” but not because of bad intentions but because of a lack of resources to properly train and implement it.
Wieman was not outspoken in his criticism of Cavazos, saying that he’s met her “once or twice” but never had a substantial conversation.
Speaking on his recent endorsement by conservative group Power2Parent, Wieman said he and the group have “fundamental differences in almost every educational area” but he wouldn’t disavow their endorsement. He’s also been endorsed by the Nevada Republican Club and the A Better Choice (ABC) political action committee, the latter of which he notes has several prominent Democrats on its board.
“I think everybody thinks I’m competent enough to make consensus decisions,” he said.
Notably, the Clark County Education Association, which represents CCSD teachers, has not made an endorsement in the race.
Two other candidates will appear on the District G ballot: Chuck Summers and Dominick Giovanni.
Giovanni did not respond to the Current’s requests for an interview.
Summers has worked for CCSD’s maintenance department and is married to a 50-year teacher. He did not respond to requests for an interview with the Current and does not have an online presence. In a questionnaire for the Review-Journal, he identified himself as a Democrat and active church member from a blue-collar background who supports union membership and right-to-work policies for those opposed to unions.
In a question about Superintendent Jesus Jara, who was fired then reinstated last year, Summers indicated he believed it was time for new leadership.
“Given this board’s history, we need to replace Mr. Jara, as well as a portion of the board,” he wrote.
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