Brooke Ashjian will remain Fresno Unified school board president at least through the end of his term in December. At Wednesday night’s meeting, the board opted to keep an agenda item calling for his censure and/or removal as discussion only and not act upon it.
The seven publicly-elected trustees determine the board president by majority vote. The term lasts for one year. A president can serve consecutive terms if it is the will of the board.
Ashjian says he put the item on the agenda at the request of Rev. Bill Knezovich. The pastor at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church represented a delegation of the religious and LGBT community (Knezovich is a gay man himself). There was some confusion (this reporter included) if the item listed as “discussion” would lead to a vote. Although there was some debate among trustees whether such an action is permissible under board by-laws, no action was taken.
There was some confusion (this reporter included) if the item listed as “discussion” would lead to a vote. Although there was some debate among trustees whether such an action was permissible under board by-laws, no action was taken.
“His statements go well beyond the attacks on the LGBTQ community. He also seeks to force his Judeo-Christian philosophy as he calls it, on a people who do not even come from Judeo-Christian traditions, from the bully pulpit of his office,” Knezovich said.
Mills Talks About First Amendment Rights
Ashjian ceded control of the discussion to board secretary Claudia Cazares. During trustee comments, Carol Mills said while she disagreed with Ashjian’s comments, they are protected by the First Amendment.
“I don’t think anyone else on the board, myself included, agreed with Trustee Ashjian’s comments,” Mills said. “But he didn’t give up his First Amendment rights when he became a board member. None of us did.”
She also mentioned that the board had no right to remove him. Fellow Trustee Christopher De La Cerda said speaking freely comes with a price. He also disagreed that the board was powerless to remove a sitting president.
“I don’t think this (censure/removal) was an attempt to stifle anyone’s freedom of speech,” De La Cerda said. “Free speech is free, but not without consequences.”
After hearing from the public, much criticizing Ashjian, Cazares closed the item and that was that.
“You have some vocal people and you have some that I’d call the silent majority,” Ashjian said. “I’m glad that people are interested in the education of children. I think it’s fantastic.”
Ashjian Misses LGBTQ Proclamation Vote
Earlier in the meeting, Ashjian was away from the dais during a proclamation to recognize LGBT History Month. Jessica Mahoney, a district employee and member of the LGBT community, castigated Ashjian for his absence.
“I think it was very disrespectful to the LGBT students and staff of the district,” Mahoney said.
GV Wire caught up with Ashjian after the meeting and asked him why he was absent during proclamation vote.
“Some people have to go to the restroom. I didn’t step out (just) for the LGBTQ vote. I stepped out way before. I didn’t come back until the superintendent was almost done (speaking).”
Ashjian’s timeline holds up. He left right after introducing the previous proclamation on cybersecurity and returned when Superintendent Bob Nelson addressed the board.
The board meets again Oct. 25. At this point, there is no indication that trustees would take action against Ashjian.