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'We Need Unity': Berkeley Community Responds to Viral Video of Teachers Union President

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Parents and students hold up signs in support of reopening schools at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley on Jan. 13, 2021. (Anna Vignet/KQED)

Repulsive. Bullying. Disturbing.

These are the words Berkeley parents are using to describe an attack-style video posted over the weekend by a group calling itself “Guerilla Momz.” The video shows Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Matt Meyer dropping off his daughter at in-person preschool.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín issued a statement about the video on Tuesday, calling to calm conflict and division.

“We all have the same goal and want what is best for our children,” he wrote. “Stalking the President of the Berkeley Teachers Federation and his young child unnecessarily stokes divisions and creates polarization at a time when we need unity.”

The Guerilla Momz group claimed hypocrisy on the part of a union leader who fought for teacher vaccinations for safety reasons before returning his teachers to classrooms, and for publicly questioning how well kids could adhere to masking requirements. The video soon went viral. Local outlets like KQED, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Mercury News, KPIX and NBC Bay Area covered it, splashing the video across television sets around the Bay Area.

It was also retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., and landed on the homepage of national outlets like Newsweek, the New York Post, Fox News and conservative websites like The Blaze and Breitbart, where it was derided by political conservatives. Soon, people across the nation furious over the pace of school reopenings set their sights on Berkeley, and its teachers.

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But that fury took an emotional toll on some Berkeley teachers and parents. And some firmly disagreed with groups pushing for reopening schools that any “hypocrisy” had taken place at all.

Guerilla Momz seized specifically on one issue: a high-profile union official with the power over thousands of families’ futures who publicly argued teachers needed vaccines in order to safely mingle with children from varying households, and that schools could not be reopened until that criterion was met, but who then freely allowed his own child to mingle with other households and caregivers who may not necessarily have been vaccinated.

In other words, they argued his public statements did not meet his private life.

But many in the community instead seized on the idea of a public school versus private, and argued there are no public preschools for children the age of Meyer’s toddler, rendering the argument a nonissue. They also saw a union leader working hard to represent the voices of his union members, and did not believe his role in deciding school reopenings met the threshold to publicly debate his private choices. They said he was a parent who, like many parents, faced few good choices about how to provide child care for a toddler while balancing work and community life.

“If folks want to do something, the productive thing is to create a community dialogue where you bring together different stakeholders and you do it in a constructive, positive way, not hiding behind anonymous Twitter names,” said Peter Ross, a Berkeley parent. “Instead, put your name out there and do something productive, bring folks together.”

Parents and teachers alike also critiqued the reopening schools groups for amplifying the voices of predominantly white, affluent parents who were crying out for “equity” in the name of marginalized students while ignoring the needs and desires of those communities.

KQED heard from many who were disheartened and felt their voices were lost in the outcry of more privileged parents who have been the most vocal for reopenings.

We have collected some of the testimonials, here:

“My heart is heavy. My community is falling apart. My instinct is to run away and hide. I don’t like that.” — Sara Hougan, Berkeley Unified parent

“It's frankly revolting to attack teachers at this time, because every educator I know is working more hours with more stress to care for our children than they ever have before. Vilifying our teachers and their union is completely unproductive. Rather than attacking our teachers, community members should be advocating for more resources for them. What is at risk here is the community's overall support of a healthy education system that serves all of our children well.” — Peter Ross, Berkeley Unified parent

“What exactly is the hypocrisy? ...that some teachers have found private child care for their young children so that they can do their jobs while working tirelessly to figure out the incredibly complex issue surrounding school’s opening in person? Is the hypocrisy that there is a small, minority of parents who have used their privilege and power to create a public narrative which claims to speak for us all, but actually doesn’t?” — Allison Krasnow, Willard Middle School eighth grade math teacher, via her blog

“It's really upsetting as a parent to sort of see the narrative building of parents versus teachers, because I don't actually think that's a fair representation of where we truly are as a community. I'm a parent volunteer and so I do a lot of work on the PTA working closely with the principals to find out exactly how parents can volunteer. Support is going to be the only way we can be actually helpful. I don't see how fighting is going to be helpful. — Chaghig Walker, Berkeley Unified parent

“As someone who serves two elementary schools, I'm in touch with families every single day, I know that the sentiments and the concerns about returning to in-person school are there. They're real and they're complex.” — Laura Rivas, Berkeley Unified parent and a family engagement specialist for the district

“It's just deeply distressing because it goes so far beyond the bounds of decency. And my fear is that it breaks a really important bond that we have with our teachers. We entrust them to teach our children, not just all of these subjects, but how to be good people and how to make friends and how to have a social consciousness ... To bully them in this way is horrifying to me.” — Christine Staples, former Berkeley Unified parent and PTA leader

Taking note of the outcry of parents and teachers, Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Brent Stephens addressed the video in a message to the school community, condemning the video as an invasion of privacy.

“Nothing is served by treating members of our community, including our teachers ... as the enemy,” he wrote. “We compromise our collective well-being if we don’t respect one another and treat each other with compassion. We have a path forward. It’s one we have to walk together.”

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The group behind the video declined to identify its members for fear of retaliation, prompting others to criticize their unwillingness to extend the same courtesy to Meyer and his young daughter. Though the 2-year-old’s image is blurred in the video, Meyer told KQED being followed and filmed frightened her and other children in the vicinity.

On Sunday, he told KQED one of the self-identified moms following his family “scared my kid and the others in the vicinity. It was super inappropriate."

Berkeley’s school district and teachers union announced a tentative agreement in February, saying teachers should be vaccinated to pave the way for a hybrid system of in-person and remote learning that is set to begin rollout in this month.

Because the Guerilla Momz did not identify themselves, and their message comes in a broader movement that some parents are concerned about coming overwhelmingly from affluent white voices, parents and teachers worry the voices of Black, Latino and Asian families are being lost.

Various Bay Area school district surveys in San Francisco and the East Bay show those communities are less enthusiastic about returning to in-person learning than white families, to various degrees.

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