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Guest Opinion | Brett Shears: All PUSD Parents Deserve the Right to Vote

Published on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 | 2:47 pm
Brett Shears

Over the past three years, a diverse and dedicated group of Pasadena area residents and stakeholders called Pasadenans Empowering Parent Participation in Education Governance (PEPPEG) have been working towards a unified purpose: to bring before the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Board of Education, the City Council, and, ultimately, the voters a proposal to extend the right to vote in PUSD elections to all parents of PUSD children.

PEPPEG hoped to have this proposal before the voters on the November 2020 ballot.

Unfortunately, the PUSD Board rejected our proposal at their July board meeting and, with it, any chance of going before the City Council or the voters for their consideration. To be clear: The matter at hand during that July board meeting was not whether the board members supported the measure itself. It was simply whether they supported the opportunity for the voters of PUSD to decide this issue for themselves. The PUSD board decided they did not.

Board members cited various reasons for voting against extending voting rights to all parents. Their objections ranged from the understandable–that, perhaps, the timing was not right–to the outright specious–that newly-eligible voters would somehow be subject to increased immigration enforcement.

The latter has proven to be an effective red herring for decision-makers seeking to stonewall the expansion of voting rights while simultaneously pretending to do it in the name of protecting the immigrant community. The only problem, of course, is that in the very long history of non-citizen voting, there are no recorded instances of immigration enforcement agencies using voter rolls as grounds for detention or deportation (not even in the nearly 4 years of President Trump).

Even if misleading, we understand the source of these concerns. In our years of organizing, PEPPEG has engaged with many PUSD stalwarts, including educators, clergy, and civic leaders of all kinds, some of whom expressed similar fears. We know our job is to alleviate those fears.

We have also spoken with the Pasadena City Clerk and high-ranking officials at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to wrestle with potential administrative challenges. While complex, we believe the election administrators can navigate them competently. Ultimately, having to create new administrative procedures is not a good enough reason to reject the idea.

Perhaps most enlightening have been our conversations with our counterparts in San Francisco who are grappling with their own issues after they successfully extended voting rights to non-citizen parents in 2016. After SFUSD elections in 2018 (their first with non-citizen voting) and then again in 2019, we have learned even more.

For San Francisco, the safety and security of potential non-citizen voters has been the biggest concern. Non-citizen parents are, understandably, wary of volunteering their information on a form that warns such information may be obtained by ICE. PEPPEG has worked diligently to find elegant ways to address this problem, but we know that, ultimately, the decision to vote will be to the newly-eligible parents themselves. We believe they are entitled to make that decision.

In all of our conversations, we have tackled head-on all of the key logistical, administrative, and political obstacles such a proposal might face. We have encountered much skepticism and many sobering analyses. And yet, we are confident this is something that can and should be done for the PUSD community.

As we begin to formulate plans to reintroduce this idea to the PUSD community, our goal remains securing a place on the ballot for the voters to consider, and ultimately pass, a charter amendment to extend the right to vote in PUSD elections to all parents of PUSD children. We believe they deserve to have a say in our democracy. We will have to wait until 2022 for PUSD voters to show they agree, but we are committed to this worthwhile struggle.

We look forward to engaging with the broader PUSD community to hear peoples’ thoughts, clarify any potential confusion, and, ultimately, make the case for why this is worth doing. The leadership of PEPPEG would like to offer an open-ended invitation to present to, and have a discussion with, any civic or community groups in the PUSD area. There already is a great deal of interest in our activities, but we are always looking for more opportunities to inspire and engage with others in our community to help make governance in Pasadena’s public schools more democratic and inclusive.

Please direct all requests to

Brett Shears serves as co-chair on Pasadenans Empowering Parent Participation in Education Governance (PEPPEG).

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