On Tuesday, Nov. 27, Diversity Collective held a Community Forum where community members were able to share their concerns about the recent situation surrounding Superintendent David Creswell’s sermon from 2016. The organization plans to compile the public comments given at the forum and present them at the Ventura Unified School District Board Meeting on Dec. 11.
Facilitating the forum was Kate English, the Executive Director at One Step a la Vez. The night started out with a panel of four community members who are or have been involved with the district as well as the LGBTQ+ community: Buena High School graduate Erielle Manhart; current Ventura Unified parent Andy Edgar-Beltran; and retired Ventura Unified administrators Michael Tapia and Steve Bailey. Then, those who filled out comment cards had the opportunity to speak in front of the crowd of around 150 members.
Former Ventura Unified Superintendent Trudy Arriaga also spoke at the meeting, urging Superintendent Creswell to continue his learning process, but “not on our time, and not on our dime.”
During the panel, the four speakers shared their initial reaction to hearing the sermon and what they perceived to be the impact on the community, as well as their thoughts on what they thought would be appropriate “consequences for Mr. Creswell’s actions.”
Edgar-Beltran shared that he was “shocked and disappointed” upon hearing news of the sermon. He was not able to hear the sermon before it got removed, but got his information from quotes and articles. In response to comments he had heard that Creswell’s actions were not severe, Edgar-Beltran stated that “they were still wrong and can be hurtful.”
For him, the immediate impact of the controversy was a multitude of conversations with those in his community, saying he now wonders “in the back of [his] mind whether [the comments] were going to influence decisions that are made, or interactions with staff and students.”
Not knowing the details of Creswell’s track record as superintendent, Edgar-Beltran does not believe he can “say or judge whether the apparent opinions of his have entered into his decision making,” but now will always question whether it does.
He finished by stating that the school district and superintendent need to “show our youth that they are supported.”
Manhart, who also spoke at the initial board meeting regarding the sermon, immediately felt a sense of “immense fear” for the students he works with at Rainbow Umbrella having to “go back to school on Monday […] and deal with the repercussions of what [Creswell] said.”
Manhart said that “this is just yet another issue that we have to deal with” on top of existing rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community.
“What youth do I have to talk to through the night to make them go to school?” Manhart asked.
He believes the consequences are up to Creswell and the school board’s discretion, but that Creswell “needs LGBT competency training, and that is the least he could do.”
Tapia wondered “how other LGBTQ+ students, families, staff and community members would feel about this.”
Tapia felt a sense of “betrayal and was struck by a sense of irony” because earlier on the day he heard the news, he had “sang the praises of Ventura Unified and mentioned that it was a great example of providing a safe space for all.”
As far as consequences of his actions go, Tapia stated, “I think that Mr. Creswell should resign.”
He called for a more thorough vetting process for the next superintendent, and to “make sure that a broad representation of students, families and staff have a voice in that selection.”
Bailey’s initial response to the sermon was of anger, “but most of all, I felt betrayed,” he said.
“That one four-minute section of the sermon took the school district back 20 years.”
He believes that it is a good thing that the sermon “has activated people” to take action.
As far as the impact on the community, “the students I’ve talked to are terrified,” he said.
Bailey shared that himself and Tapia wrote Creswell a letter “that respectfully asked him to resign,” saying that a school district “requires a strong, dedicated leader who deeply believes in the value of everyone.”
Out of all the public comments, some people called for Creswell’s resignation, while others believed he needs more “LGBT competency” training and that the district should keep him as superintendent.
Among those calling for Creswell’s resignation was Mary Haffner, Vice President of the Ventura Unified School Board.
“I believe that his sermon has irretrievably divided our community and our district,” she said. “The significance of his words and tone are disqualifying for the leader of a diverse public K-12 school district. We would never have hired him if we had known this.”