Clashing education ideologies fight to control Washington

Image from Dianne Jones campaign.

After first being elected in 2018, the current President of the FUSD Board of Education, Dianne Jones, has been re-elected. Jones managed to win by a landslide of 70.78% of the 4,819 votes cast. Though Jones was the incumbent, there was still competition in her opponent, Jennifer Kavouniaris. Either Jones or Kavouniaris was set to represent District Three, which includes Washington High School. This election was crucial to Washington since these two candidates had opposing views on curriculum, budget, goals, and philosophy. To fully understand both candidates and what they represent, one must understand their past, goals, and endorsements.  

Jennifer Kavouniaris has been a part of the Fremont community for over fifteen years mainly through being an owner of Spin a Yarn Steakhouse, which was founded in 1995 by Saki Kavouniaris. Kavouniaris studied at Las Positas College, which is a community college in Livermore. The compelling thing about Spin a Yarn Steakhouse is that it was featured in the hit Gordon Ramsay T.V. show Kitchen Nightmares, in which Ramsay helps struggling restaurant owners transform their failing restaurants into successful ones. The show mainly portrayed Kavouniaris as a “stereotypical dumb blonde,” though only 22% of the restaurants in Kitchen Nightmares are still open, which shows that Kavouniaris was able to keep the restaurant open against the odds.

Jennifer Kavouniaris’ main goal is to increase the amount of parent involvement within the district’s decision-making. Kavouniaris states, “I want to give parents more of a voice in, and greater access to the decision-making process within the Fremont Unified School District.” This mantra is repeated repeatedly on Kavouniaris’ official website: “We need parents to take back schools from bureaucrats and special interests.” 

There are four main goals Kavouniaris highlights: have student resource officers (SRO), which are essentially law enforcement or police on campus; limit gender education; promote mental health; and protect AP classes. The first goal of Kavouniaris is to fully support the SRO program. Recently there has been a push to defund the program over claims that it disproportionately targets students of color. However, Kavouniaris wants to protect the SRO program at all costs, even posting a YouTube “Playlist of Trustee Jones Opposing SRO Program and MOU” showing the times Kavouniaris’ opponent Dianne Jones questioned the need for SROs. On Kavouniaris’ official website BLM is described as “a radical organization that demands for defunding the police,” showing that Kavouniaris wants to increase funding for law enforcement on school campuses. 

Secondly, Kavouniaris made a speech at a school board meeting saying that gender curriculum should be age-appropriate and taught responsibly, stating, “I’m concerned about [children’s] safety in the new curriculum that’s being given down by the state. I know that there are state laws but I want to be on the front lines and I want to make sure this [gender curriculum] is being handled properly and responsibly.” Though one of her main goals is to promote a comprehensive student mental health program, Kavouniaris doesn’t support the current student health program, which is SEL (Social Emotional Learning). She doesn’t support SEL mainly because its curriculum is made by Second Step, an organization that uses ideas associated with Critical Race Theory (CRT), which Kavouniaris dislikes. She claims CRT and SEL are dangerous to students because it teaches children that they are different or oppressed because of their skin color. CRT is mainly taught in law schools to explain how the criminal justice system is unfair. However, CRT is now starting to be used in high school courses such as Ethnic Studies, offered at Washington High School. If Kavouniaris had been elected, the Ethnic Studies curriculum would have faced some major challenges. Furthermore, she wanted to increase the number of AP courses at FUSD. Finally, she claims unions are opposed to her policies, stating, “I feel like the unions are hijacked by people that want to destroy America.” 

Endorsements are integral to understanding a candidate’s policies and supporters. Organizations that endorsed Kavouniaris were mainly conservative and parent-led. She was backed by the Alameda County Republican Party, and the California Federated College Republicans. The parent-led organizations that supported Kavouniaris are Moms For Liberty and California Parents United. Moms For Liberty is a nonprofit founded in 2021. It originally started in Florida but has spread rapidly throughout the country. This organization mainly fights for parental rights in education, stating, “We do not co-parent with the government.” They were firmly against distance learning and mask mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic. California Parents United is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization; however, it does have a right-leaning policy. Primarily, Kavouniaris’ endorsements came from right-wing organizations that put parental rights first.

Dianne Jones has lived in Fremont for twenty-five years and has served the community in a variety of ways. Before living in Fremont, Jones studied for a Master’s in Psychology at California State University Sacramento and later at the University of California, Berkeley for a Bachelor’s in Political Science. Starting in 2005, Jones volunteered for the Fremont Council PTA and Fremont Unified School District. Furthermore, she has been a substitute teacher for FUSD since 2016. Jones won a seat on the school board in 2018, later becoming President. However, a large part of Jones’s experience as President was with distance learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic. On the other hand, Jones still has extensive knowledge of FUSD due to volunteering, serving on the PTA, and being a substitute. She has a number of accomplishments during her time on the board, including guiding the district through distance learning, adding solar power to schools, and bringing in the new SEL (Social Emotional Learning) curriculum.

Jones wants to support students to grow both emotionally and socially, hire more staff, and increase art facilities. She claims, “If re-elected to the Fremont School Board Trustee Area 3, I pledge to work with parents, educators, administrators, support staff, and students to address our challenges and build on our strengths.” Jones has racked up many endorsements that are mainly left-leaning. She is rated as a 100% candidate for both Planned Parenthood and Moms Demand Action, an organization that fights for reducing gun violence. Furthermore, Jones is endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic Party and South Alameda County Young Democrats. Jones also had a plethora of elected officials’ support, including Ro Khanna, Alex Lee, Aisha Wahab, and a multitude of local school board trustees and city council members. These two candidates differ in their goals, experiences, policies, and endorsements. But what does the Washington body think? Mr. Block, the AP US History and economics teacher, stated, “I think it’s important that everyone get involved and exercise their right to vote and exercise their political voice in order to influence the outcome and the direction they think is right for our district.”

Shazia Shameerullah is a senior at Washington High School and has lived in Fremont since elementary school. This is her second year at the Hatchet and is now the Opinions editor. Her favorite subjects at school include social studies and English. She enjoys being with friends, volunteering at the animal shelter, cooking, Mock Trial, Model UN, and watching sitcoms. After high school, Shazia plans to major in political science and get a career in public service or law.

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