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Sierra Unified School District trustees said Monday they’re not sure what, if any, action could be taken against newly-elected Trustee James Hoak Jr., whose social media posts show he was one of thousands of Trump supporters at the Capitol last Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a petition drive on change.org is seeking to have Hoak removed from the School Board, and tonight’s board meeting is likely to attract numerous comments from the public. The meeting, which begins at 6 p.m., can be viewed via Zoom, and the link is on the board’s agenda.

Hoak said Monday afternoon he has been in contact with his fellow trustees but declined to provide information. “I’m not really allowed to talk about it,” he said. “My conversations with the board are private.”

Asked about the petition drive to remove him from the board, Hoak said he had no comment.

Did He Violate Oath of Office?

Former Trustee Norman Saude said he will want to know whether Hoak actually entered the Capitol with protesters, many of whom engaged in violence against police officers and vandalized offices, or was exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech outside.

Questioning the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election prior to certification by Congress might not be a violation, but if Hoak continued to object after certification was finalized it might be a violation of the oath of office that he, and every other elected official, takes when being sworn into office, Saude said.

In California, elected officials swear to this oath: “I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”

Trustees: We Need to Hear from Community

Several Sierra Unified trustees said they expect that the community reaction to Hoak’s activities in the nation’s capital will have the board’s focus tonight and possibly future meetings.

Tonight’s meeting will give the board the opportunity to gather information and input from the community before determining what the board’s next step might be, said board president Connie Schlaefer.

Trustee Wes Qualls said he suspects the board will need some time to digest and evaluate information before making any decisions. There could be a special meeting scheduled to address the issues as a follow-up to tonight’s board meeting, he said.

Next Steps

The petition drive urging Hoak’s removal would be effective only if voters mounted a recall effort, since the board can’t act to remove one of its own.

Jim Yovino, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, said that under California law a trustee who is convicted of a felony or any offense involving a violation of official duties must vacate his or her elected office.

Asked if a censure vote by the Sierra Unified board was a possibility, Qualls said he doesn’t know what the trustees’ options are. “We’ll learn that going forward,” he said.

Trustees said they expect a formal response will be posted on the district’s website but were not certain when that will happen.

Later Monday afternoon this statement was posted on the district’s website: “Sierra Unified School District has received numerous emails and phone calls over the last several days with regard to the matter involving School Board Member James Hoak. We acknowledge these emails and calls and recognize your right to address this Board tonight. In addition to listening carefully to your comments, we will consult with legal counsel on how we may address the community’s concerns consistent with our obligations under the law. Although the District supports the rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, it does not condone the violence against our nation’s Capitol, which occurred on Jan. 6, 2021. The District remains committed to instilling in our youth the values of tolerance, equity, fairness and respect for all in our community and nation.”

As to whether he had any opinion about Hoak’s involvement with the Capitol protest last week, Qualls said he was reluctant to give a personal opinion because it could be misconstrued as representing the School Board. When asked if that’s what Hoak did last week in Washington, Qualls said, “I’ll have to let you evaluate that.”

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