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LA MESA, Calif. — A recall effort has sprung up around an East County school district board member’s controversial comments during a recent meeting on resuming in-person instruction.

La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board Vice President Chardá Bell-Fontenot made the comments during the meeting on Feb. 23. The fireworks started as board members discussed voting on a date to return to class. During the Zoom meeting, Bell-Fontenot’s video was off, but her voice was clear as she opposed a vote.

“We don’t have to give anybody any date. We don’t have to do anything that we don’t want to do right now,” Bell-Fontenot said.

After another board member said the majority of families want kids to return to in-person classes, Bell-Fontenot said more information was needed, and questioned which communities were reached by the poll. “I would like to know, geographically, which school sites, which language groups and how we conducted this feedback,” she said to the other board members.

Later, she questioned whether the school board could be forcing people to return to the classroom who don’t feel safe doing so: “How are we forcing people? That seems like a very white supremacist ideology to force people to comply with, you know, and conform.”

“I don’t want to be a part of forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to do,” Bell-Fontenot said at another point in the meeting. “That’s what slavery is.”

Since the meeting, a local conservative activist and a group of parents frustrated with the district’s slow return to in-person classes have launched an effort to remove her from her position.

“Frankly, it’s a smear to suggest anyone who wants to reopen schools somehow is a white supremacist,” said Carl DeMaio, the chairman of Reform California and former San Diego city councilman.

A website for the effort says the board V.P., “hurt our kids by voting to keep La Mesa-Spring Valley schools closed, and then unfairly attacked parents.”

Through her attorney, Bell-Fontenot released a statement saying:

“The public has the right to pursue a recall just as every student has the right to equal protection from the pandemic when going back to in-person instruction. I am confident that the voters also want every child to be equally protected when returning to school.”

In a statement posted to its website, the district later said Bell-Fontenot “behaved in a manner the Board does not condone, nor did her behavior represent our values,” though it also condemned “hateful, racist, and threatening communications,” that she has received in the aftermath.

The school board ultimately approved the reopening of La Mesa-Spring Valley schools for in-person, hybrid instruction starting April 19.