In blog entry, Baeke criticized history teacher for alleged assumptions of particular voters

By Raiza Giorgi

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Board of Education Trustee Dr. John Baeke will be given a formal censure at an upcoming meeting, after being reprimanded by his fellow board members for allegedly violating board policy and bylaws by posting a recording of a history class and making comments on that teacher’s lecture on his personal blog. 

During the special meeting convened on Thursday, Feb. 11, Baeke was asked to take down the blog post where he has a transcription of a portion of the Advanced Placement U.S. History class given in October 2020, and also gave his comments on the lecture on his blog

Baeke asserts in his blog post that the teacher is wrong in his assumptions of particular voters and the teacher should leave his political ideology out of his lectures. 

Baeke’s blog never mentions the teacher by name; however, the district identified him as Chris Mullin in its list of warrants posted Feb. 9 on the district website. 

The censure came after a first written reprimand was proposed by Board President Jan Clevenger, but then newly elected board member Jose Juan Ibarra said Baeke didn’t demonstrate enough remorse for the impact of his behavior and motioned for the censure which passed 3-1-1 with Baeke dissenting and board member Stephen Luke not in attendance. 

“In addition what I find concerning is the unintended impact of his behavior and placed a lot of judgement and criticism on this teacher, and by default, teachers,” Ibarra said. “There’s an element of judgement used via social media, and our students struggle already with cyberbullying and information that is distorted and not real facts and information. Dr. Baeke was given an opportunity to correct it and he reposted it after wise counsel and request.” 

The agenda item listed for the meeting referred to a “report” made by a third-party investigator, and the report was not available prior to the meeting, nor was the Board Bylaw or policy listed that Baeke allegedly broke. The Star asked for both and was told by Superintendent Scott Cory they were attorney-client privilege. 

During public comment, several members of the public asked for the report and bylaws and/or policy be given before taking action against Baeke so they could appropriately give comments.

Several members of the public questioned if this meeting was also violating the Brown Act because the online posting of the meeting was not on the district’s homepage as required by Brown Act online protocols, and because the report being used to discipline Baeke was not available for public review before the board’s action against him. 

“The agenda lists receipt of a report in consideration of action. The report was not available as an attachment which is required by the Brown Act,” said John Linn. “The public cannot comment on a report they have not seen it in advance. This makes it an illegal meeting and subject to correction under the Brown Act. The board should restart this process and stop now.”

All of the public commenters stood up for Baeke, saying he held the best interest of the parents and students, and the board should be focused on the kids during the COVID-19 pandemic and their mental health. 

“The teacher in question is attempting to deflect the blame for poor classroom conduct onto the messenger who was reporting the infraction,” said David Hudspeth. “Please do not allow an educator or union official to influence you or your decision, to stand with Dr. Baeke, which is to stand strong for the student and parents which you took an oath to stand for. Here we have an act to smear and defame a public official who is simply responding to a parents call for help.” 

Michelle de Werd said the action item lacked transparency and not enough information was given to the public about what the board was to vote on. 

“There is an ongoing investigation of a teacher’s Zoom lecture. A deputy Sheriff came to my home at night to interrogate me about the video,” she said. “This investigation cost the district $10,000, which I found listed under the purchase orders. It is obvious Mr. Mullin is not proud, or embarrassed by his lecture. 

“We need to take responsibility for our speech rather than revenge. This teacher’s history lesson is something every parent should watch, including the Hispanic families. Also Mr. Mullin disparages and mocks a fellow colleague. The person who recorded this video lecture did not violate Ed Code on a student’s privacy.”

de Werd asked if the district clearly defined the rules and expectations regarding Zoom classes and where the policy is listed. She mentioned the district’s discipline policy and procedure handbook, which does not reference the rules or consequences of videotaping Zoom classes. 

“Can parents not watch their children’s Zoom classes in their homes? Where is that written?” de Werd said. “Are students aware of the rules before the school year began? Do the teachers inform the students before each class they are to not videotape their lecture?” 

The Star also asked where the rules about recording lectures are posted as it is not clearly marked on the district website or handbook to parents and students. No answer has been given as of press time. 

After public comment, Clevenger made a motion to then make the report and the findings public with redactions to everyone except board members and administration staff. 

The report was then given by the district’s attorney Chelsea Murphy of Lozano Smith Attorneys at Law, who went through the investigation summary and identified that Baeke was in violation of Education Code 51512, and Board Bylaws 9005; 9005.1 of Governance Standards and Board and Superintendent Operating Procedures, particularly to communicate with the superintendent when an individual concern arises. 

Baeke also was accused of violating Board Bylaw 9010 on Public Statements. 

Education code 51512 prohibits the use “of any electronic listening or recording device in any classroom of the elementary and secondary schools without the prior consent of the teacher and principal of the school.” Furthermore, “any person, other than a pupil, who willfully violates this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and any pupil violating this section shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.”

There is no mention in the handbook on the rules of videotaping lectures. 

When Baeke was offered opportunity to speak he said he believes he is not violating any education code nor Board of Education bylaws and said he never posted the teacher’s name, and the district revealed Mullin’s action to file a formal complaint against him.

“I was elected under no false pretenses and I made no secrets of my platform which is why I created this website so the community would know my position and opinion and I have always maintained my blog is not necessarily the position of the district,” Baeke said in his address to the board and administration. “Students fear reprisal by going to administration, so their parents come to me and communicate with me. I respond to every email and letter and what frustrates me is the continuing of sweeping under the carpet. Superintendent Cory forbade me from contact with staff and October 2020 I posted the transcript of the teacher’s lengthy lecture. I do not know who made the video, but I listened and was disheartened and made me wonder if the teacher is angry because that had no tie with U.S. History.”

The meeting adjourned with Clevenger and Ibarra being appointed to a subcommittee to work with Cory and the legal counsel to draft the censure and bring back at a future meeting.