HAF Successfully Opposes Belisle Nomination to CA State Board of Education

Sacramento, CA ( February 17, 2010) - The Senate Rules Committee hearing scheduled for February 24, 2010, regarding confirmation of State Board of Education (SBE) appointees, was officially cancelled today. As a result, Ms. Raneene "Rae" Belisle's term to the SBE will officially expire March 11, 2010.  Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg cited several reasons for the cancellation including the unlikelihood that he and the Senate Rules Committee would be able to support Belisle's confirmation given issues regarding her "comportment" and the current SBE membership being heavily represented by individuals tied to charter school.
 
In September 2009, the Hindu American Foundation called into question Belisle's judgment, integrity and fitness to serve on the SBE in a letter to Senator Steinberg and members of the Senate Rules Committee. During HAF's lawsuit against the SBE over irregularities, including several closed door proceedings, in the 2005 History and Social Studies textbook review and adoption process, Belisle served as the SBE's Chief Legal Counsel.  It was Belilse's biased conduct in the time leading up to litigation that was cause for HAF's concern.
 
Shortly after receiving HAF's letter as well as letters from other organizations expressing a broad range of concerns, Senator Steinberg called upon HAF and other organizations to discuss face to face the varying groups' reservations over Belisle.  Other organizations included Mexican American Legal & Education Defense Fund, National Council of La Raza, California Legal Rural Foundation, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, Asian & Pacific Islanders California Action Network, Association of California School Administrators, California School Boards Association and California Federation of Teachers.
 
It has been suggested that organizational letters to the Senate President Pro Tempore and Senate Rules Committee, a well executed letter writing and calling campaign launched by the concerned organizations and several direct calls from other senators to Senator Steinberg expressing their concerns regarding Belisle, were instrumental in the cancellation of the hearing (click here to read HAF's appreciation letter).

Facts about Rae Belisle

  • She served as Chief Counsel and Executive Director to the SBE over a period of seven years from 1997 to 2004.
  • She served until January 2010 as the CEO of EdVoice, a non-profit education advocacy organization founded by Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix.

Why HAF Opposed Ms. Belisle's Confirmation to the SBE

  • In an effort to justify HAF's and several Hindu American community members' exclusion from closed door meetings being held by the SBE, Ms. Belisle alleged that HAF and other Hindu parents had repeatedly threatened and harassed the California Department of Education (CDE) and Board staff and that everyone at the SBE was very fearful of them.  
  • Specifically:
    • Ms. Belisle warned the law firm representing HAF to "watch out" because its client [HAF] had repeatedly threatened and harassed the CDE and SBE staff.  
    • Ms. Belisle claimed that everyone at the SBE was fearful of them [HAF as well as other members of the Hindu American community].  
    • Ms. Belisle repeatedly referred to HAF and members of the Hindu American community as "those people" who were "very dangerous."  
    • HAF's attorney disputed Ms. Belisle's characterization to which Ms. Belisle advised that the attorney would regret working with HAF because HAF and members of the community would "turn on" them and then only would the attorney know what it was like to feel threatened the way the staff felt.  
    • She made it clear to HAF's attorney that she considered the Hindu Americans challenging the Board to be religious zealots and extremists 
  • During the course of HAF's litigation, a thorough investigation of the public records was conducted.  Not a single threatening letter nor record of threatening or harassing phone calls from HAF or members of the Hindu American community were found.
  • The public records investigation did reveal several letters from Hindu American parents voicing their concern over the inaccuracies in the social science and history materials, calling upon the Board to modify them.  Most of the letters indeed expressed frustration on the part of parents of having a portrayal of their faith that was completely divorced from their daily belief and practice, but, again, not a single threat was found.
  • M s. Belisle's comfort with fabricating and misrepresenting facts was the last straw, so to speak, for HAF in terms of realizing the SBE and its staffs' complete lack of good faith and unwillingness to abide by the law in the textbook adoption process.  HAF immediately filed suit.

Role of the SBE

The State Board of Education (SBE) is the governing and policy-making body of the California Department of Education. The SBE establishes K-12 education policy in the areas of academic content standards, instructional materials, assessment and accountability. The SBE adopts textbooks for grades K-8, adopts regulations to implement legislation, and has authority to grant waivers of the Education Code. The SBE has 11 members, appointed by the Governor.

The Importance of Obtaining and Maintaining a Diverse and Representative SBE

A good working relationship with members and staff of the SBE is critical and necessary in order to help shape the best policies and practices for improving the public education system, which also includes the adoption of textbooks and instructional materials.  But even prior to building good relationships, Californians must ensure that members appointed to the SBE are committed to serving the public fairly, openly and equitably. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.  California Hindus experienced firsthand a veritable obstacle course during the 2005 Instructional Materials and Textbook Adoption process because of the biased and heavy-handed dealings of some SBE members and staff.  Indeed, agreement with the members of the SBE on all issues is not possible, but lines of communication must be open and the work of the Board must be accessible and transparent to the public.   

Current SBE Composition

Currently eight of the nine sitting board members were appointed by the Governor, including the recent appointments of Rae Belisle and Jorge Lopez. Only nine of the eleven seats are filled. Two of the members are African American, one Latino and one Asian. There are no classroom teachers, credentialed non-charter school administrators, superintendents or parents (not working in the field of education) on the SBE. 
 
The Board should ideally have members that represent all educational perspectives and the members should have in-depth knowledge of the K-12 school system to best meet the needs of ALL students.  HAF will continue working with concerned organizations to ensure a representative SBE that is dedicated to the best interests of all Californians, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability.