More than a dozen protesters gathered at a Contra Costa County Board of Education meeting Wednesday to denounce trustee Jeff Belle for comments he made supporting President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration.
The protesters hailed from Contra Costa’s Together We Will chapter, Orinda Progressive Action Alliance and LaMorinda Takes Action. Marilyn Lucey, who organized the demonstration, said that Belle’s tweets — including telling a detractor “Jesus dislikes you” and retweeting messages from anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant accounts — were inappropriate and stoke prejudice on campuses.
"Jeff Belle is perpetuating a climate of fear as opposed to looking out for students,” Lucey told NBC Bay Area. “There are many Muslim students who are feeling very afraid, and we also have immigrant students who are scared of being separated during school. They are worried about what might happen to their parents when they’re not together.”
The protesters also urged the board to increase awareness about its post-election toolkit, titled “All Kids Are Our Kids.” The kit includes sample language for districts that would like to implement sanctuary policies on its campuses, but the PDF files on the website are only available in English.
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“We don’t feel they did enough to get it in the hands of parents,” Lucey said, adding that she would like to see more translations.
A handful of people also spoke out in support of Belle during the meeting, including his lawyer Carol Hehmeyer. She alleged that Belle is being discriminated against because he is black.
Belle, meanwhile, indicated that he had no plans to resign from his post in interviews with NBC Bay Area.
The embattled trustee has repeatedly made waves for his controversial tweets and history of legal troubles, including landlord disputes, cashing bogus checks, practicing respiratory care without a license and falsifying his education record on election documents, for which he was required to perform community service. Belle still won a seat on the board in 2014, despite the East Bay Times doggedly reporting on his past troubles during the election.
Belle previously defended his online behavior to NBC Bay Area, maintaining that he tweets as a private citizen — despite his Twitter profile identifying him as a trustee and linking to the education board's website.
“We are going to follow the law," Belle said in that interview. "I don't care what the office of education says. We are going to do whatever federal law says." He added that Trump’s immigration executive orders, which threaten to slash funding from sanctuary cities and attempted to block entry to immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, represented a clean start for the country.
“It’s a new day in town,” he said.
His colleagues have tried to distance themselves from Belle’s comments. The board is currently deciding whether to put out individual statements in response to the post-election climate or release one, unified comment. There was some disagreement Wednesday on the best course of action, with board trustee Vikki Chavez in favor of releasing individual statements reflecting the trustees' differing views. The board took the matter into committee and a decision is expected to come at the next meeting.
A spokesperson with the county's Office of Education said the board doesn't endorse Belle's views.
"While Mr. Belle certainly has a right to free speech and to his own opinion, he is not acting within the capacity of his role as a board of education member," spokesperson Terry Koehne said. "His views do not reflect the views of this agency or the board as a whole."
Koehne continued: "We are about diversity and inclusion. We are about safe school campuses. We teach tolerance, but we don’t tolerate hatred."
Belle is up for re-election in 2018.