A Carlsbad church has been mobilizing opposition against the school district’s diversity plan

Carlsbad Unified School Board meeting held at Sage Creek High School on Wednesday
At a Carlsbad Unified School Board meeting held at Sage Creek High School on Wednesday, the public responds to speakers during public comments. More than 50 people signed up to speak on the school district’s proposed diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) plan.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Carlsbad Unified School District’s proposed diversity and inclusion plan is the latest initiative to come under fire from people who don’t want to see LGBTQ matters discussed in public schools.

Dozens of people signed up to speak on the draft plan at the Carlsbad school board meeting Wednesday night, which ran for five hours. Roughly 250 people, separated into sections for and against the plan, packed the Sage Creek High School auditorium.

The board ultimately agreed to delay a vote on the plan because Board President Ray Pearson was absent because of a medical emergency. The panel will take up the proposal at its next regular meeting on July 19, officials said.


Much if not most of that opposition for the district’s plan has come from The Mission Church, a Christian house of worship located in Carlsbad Village. The church’s pastor, David Menard, has told his congregation that LGBTQ issues do not belong in schools because he believes they harm students, are inappropriate for young children and distract from core academic subjects like math and reading.

“The Carlsbad Unified School District is wanting to bring in what is called DEI … it is really a name for an LGBTQ sexual agenda, LGBTQ curriculum, LGBTQ indoctrination on our students,” Menard said during a Sunday service on June 11.

Supporters of the plan say equity initiatives are needed for all students to feel welcome and included on campus, and that critics are showing bias against LGBTQ people by ignoring or condemning their identities.

“That makes me sad that there are some folks who would prefer to not acknowledge that families look different and come in all shapes and sizes,” Carlsbad Superintendent Ben Churchill said in an interview.

Months of conflict

Carlsbad is one of many suburban or majority-white school districts across the country that have become embroiled in fights over whether or how public schools should teach about and make efforts to support people of color and LGBTQ people.

In San Diego County such debates have caused conflicts in Coronado Unified, Poway Unified, Solana Beach Elementary, Escondido Union Elementary, San Dieguito Union High and Ramona Unified over the past three years.


Carlsbad’s 16 schools serve about 11,000 students, less than a third of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged, which is less than the county average. More than half of students are white, about 27% are Latino, 10% are multiracial, 5% are Asian and 1% is Black.

In March, Carlsbad educators’ attempts to create the district’s first ethnic studies course came under fire from parents who had protested COVID school closures and a local group that has led opposition to school racial equity efforts across the county. The school board approved the high school ethnic studies film course but not without first eliminating mentions of institutional racism and “white Eurocentric dominant culture” from course materials.

Then in May, more controversy erupted after Carlsbad High School Vice Principal Ethan Williams was recorded speaking at a meeting of The Mission Church, where he has been an active member. Williams encouraged churchgoers to show up at Carlsbad’s diversity plan input sessions and call for no “sexual identity or gender ideology curriculum, groups or celebrations” on campus, according to a recording of the meeting that was widely circulated on the web and published by news organizations.

“It’s not because we’re bigoted, it’s not because we’re afraid of trans people. We love them and we see the harmful impacts that this is having on our kids,” Williams said in the recording.

Williams could not be reached for comment.

On May 22, Churchill condemned the comments in the recording that there should be no curriculum, clubs or celebrations regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I wholeheartedly disagree with the comments made, and condemn those comments as they are in conflict with California Education Code and our board’s 2021 resolution in support of LGBTQ+ students and staff,” Churchill wrote. “It is essential that we create a supportive space where LGBTQ+ students and staff feel valued, respected, and free to express their authentic selves.”


Two weeks later, the school board held a special meeting about “significant exposure to litigation” but took no action.

Churchill declined to comment on Williams’ status because it is a personnel matter. The school district has not taken any action on Williams’ employment status, according to the school board’s personnel reports.

In the last week of May, the Carlsbad Unified School Board declined a proposal to raise the Pride flag and delayed a decision on the matter, prompting protest from scores of students.

The ‘why’ behind the plan

The origin of the diversity plan goes back years, according to Churchill, when the district heard from groups of students that they don’t always feel safe or welcome on campus.

In student surveys taken this spring, about 85% of students who responded said they feel welcome at school.

But that number dropped when looking specifically at students of racial groups that are not white or Asian. For example only 77% of Black students said they feel welcome; 83% of Latino students said so.


About 88% of students overall said they believe their school supports students of all races, ethnicities and skin colors, but fewer believe their school supports students of all socioeconomic backgrounds (78%), sexual orientations (81%) and religions (83%).

“It remains clear that some groups of students feel that we have more work to do,” Churchill said. “An accommodation that we’re making to ensure better access for one group ultimately positively impacts all groups.”

The diversity plan draft includes almost 40 components, a mix of new efforts and efforts the district has already been implementing.

One new effort would be implementing the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program at every school, an antibullying and antibias program used by more than 1,800 schools nationwide, according to the program’s website. In the program, schools convene their own committees that organize campus activities about diversity, inclusion or social justice.

The plan also includes efforts to address grade disparities among student groups by reviewing practices like grading, homework, attendance and advanced course access that may be putting certain student groups at a disadvantage. Experts have said some practices in these areas can allow for educator bias and other factors to penalize racial minorities.

The diversity plan would convene several committees, including student committees at every school and a districtwide advisory committee to monitor and ensure implementation of the plan. The committee memberships will likely be chosen by school principals working with Nye, Churchill said.


At the urging of board Trustee Elisa Williamson, who said she has several reservations about the diversity plan, the board agreed that committees would include people with different viewpoints and include faith-based groups.

Altogether the plan would cost $419,000 in the upcoming school year, most of it paid for with state grants designated for teacher training, officials said. The bulk of that money will go toward staff training and hiring a staff member liaison who will ensure the diversity plan gets implemented.

Whether or not the plan gets approved by the board, Churchill said the district will continue work it has already been doing in regard to diversity and equity, such as offering training to interested teachers.

Different viewpoints

At Wednesday’s meeting, critics said they don’t see evidence that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts work, and they said they are more divisive than helpful. They suggested that LGBTQ identities are ideologies rather than realities. And some critics suggested they are the ones experiencing bias based on their faith and traditional values.

“Not everyone’s feeling welcome, safe and included,” said Tyler Brown, who has four kids in the district, during public comment. “Let’s work together and find something we can all agree on.”

Supporters of the diversity plan have questioned why one church’s beliefs should have influence on a public school district’s decision-making. Some noted that many people speaking against the diversity plan are not in Carlsbad Unified schools and are not part of the groups that the diversity plan is trying to help.


“I see a lot of white people saying there’s no problem when children of color have said in the survey that they don’t feel they belong,” said Caroline Theiss-Aird, whose children and grandchildren graduated from Carlsbad schools, during public comment.

And some said they believe critics are ignoring the fact that students of color and LGBTQ students have experienced bias or harassment.

“I’m frankly scared seeing the way people have belittled the experiences of both me and my friends and classmates who have been harassed and bullied on campus,” said Ayden McDaniel, a recent graduate of Sage Creek High School, during public comment. “Please listen to your students. Please understand that the people you are not hearing are the people you need to focus on the most.”

The Mission Church’s requests to the district are to eliminate any “sexual and gender ideology” from Carlsbad’s curriculum and to show more transparency regarding curriculum, campus activities and parents’ rights. For example, some church members have taken issue with the fact that educators cannot tell parents if their child is transgender.

State law prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. According to the state education department, state antidiscrimination law also affords transgender students a right to privacy and educators cannot tell students’ parents about their transgender status without the student’s consent — something many advocates say is necessary for students’ safety for fear of backlash from parents.