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Ocean View School District removes committee member over ‘colored people’ comment on YouTube

Ocean View School District board members Patricia Singer, president John Briscoe, Jack Souders, Gina
Ocean View School District board members Patricia Singer, John Briscoe, Jack Souders, Gina Clayton-Tarvin and Norm Westwell, from left, listen to public comments during their meeting Tuesday night.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A Huntington Beach resident who is alleged to have referred to minorities as “colored people” in a YouTube video is being removed from an Ocean View School District committee, effective immediately.

During a heated three-hour meeting Tuesday night, the district board voted 4-1 to remove Gracey Larrea-Van Der Mark from its Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure R, which oversees expenditures related to a voter-approved bond measure for school facility improvements. Trustee Norm Westwell dissented.

Larrea-Van Der Mark’s use of the phrase was reportedly used in a YouTube video she uploaded in 2017 showing protesters at an anti-racism workshop.

According to the OC Weekly, Larrea-Van Der Mark wrote: “This meeting was being ran by the elderly Jewish people who were in there. The colored people were there doing what the elderly Jewish people instructed them to do.”

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Dozens of people packed the board meeting. Several of Larrea-Van Der Mark’s supporters criticized trustees for discussing the issue, which they called “politically motivated.” Some claimed trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin, who appointed Larrea-Van Der Mark to the committee and then called for her removal when the allegations surfaced, was trying to stifle free speech.

Other speakers supported Clayton-Tarvin’s push to remove her.

Clayton-Tarvin and others also have urged the city of Huntington Beach to remove Larrea-Van Der Mark from its Finance Commission. City Councilman Patrick Brenden, who appointed her to the commission, said last week that he would investigate the complaints against her.

A few Ocean View employees vented their frustration Tuesday over gossip on social media and implored trustees to refocus their attention on students.

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Larrea-Van Der Mark, who was absent from the meeting, did not respond to requests for comment afterward.

Speaker Kathy Carrick said using politically correct language has “gotten out of control” and added that if every board member were asked to step down for using a politically incorrect term, “we’d have an empty dias.”

Joe DeVore scolded the school board for not asking for Larrea-Van Der Mark’s side of the story before voting on whether to remove her. He said trustees “tainted” the right to due process and took “little snippets out of context and used it for [Clayton-Tarvin’s] agenda.”

“If she hasn’t responded, don’t remove her,” DeVore said.

Others said Larrea-Van Der Mark wasn’t capable of objectively representing the Ocean View community.

Victor Valladares shared his experience of stepping down from a city panel after receiving national attention for taking a Donald Trump piñata to a rally for the then- presidential candidate and encouraging protesters to destroy it. He also passed out posters depicting Trump in a sexual manner.

“We’re appointed officials held to a different standard,” Valladares said.

After the public comment period, Clayton-Tarvin and Westwell dominated the board debate.

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Holding a stack of papers showing screenshots of Larrea-Van Der Mark’s online comments, Clayton-Tarvin said she appointed her knowing they had differing political backgrounds but raised concerns about her after hearing from community members.

Larrea-Van Der Mark’s comments, Clayton-Tarvin said, promote “bigotry” and aren’t reflective of Ocean View.

“It’s free speech but it’s also hate speech,” she said. “We don’t have to promote it. We don’t have to foster it. We’re an educational institution that’s supposed to be inclusive of all our children.”

As some in the audience shouted for Clayton-Tarvin’s removal, board President Jack Souders repeatedly called for order, warning community members that he would clear the room if the heckling continued.

Westwell contended that Larrea-Van Der Mark’s critics, including some of his colleagues, were “willfully and intentionally misrepresenting the truth” about a person he had known for more than two years and didn’t have a “racist bone in her body.”

He asked the speakers who supported Larrea-Van Der Mark’s removal whether they had reached out to her. Two said they had.

Supt. Carol Hansen said the district made multiple attempts to contact Larrea-Van Der Mark via phone and email. Larrea-Van Der Mark denied that in a message to the Daily Pilot before the meeting.

“Do you believe her to be a racist?” Westwell asked Hansen.

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“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to answer those questions at this time,” Hansen said.

Westwell then asked how Hansen determined that the board should discuss removing the committee member.

“That is my analysis of multiple emails received,” Hansen said.

“How are you able to understand perceptions of others?”

“That’s my judgment in making the best decision for the district,” Hansen said, adding that this wasn’t an issue they should be spending their time on.

Not long after Souders’ warning, he ordered the audience to leave the room while trustees discussed how to proceed with the meeting. Hansen called Huntington Beach police to the scene.

The audience was allowed to return, and trustees voted on the matter shortly afterward.

“If I had any questions before I came here tonight, they were answered by the public comments by people who came to the microphone,” Souders said.

“In the future,” he added, “I’m going to play this more harshly because I’m not going to let this get out of control the way they did tonight.”

Larrea-Van Der Mark’s online activity has received heightened attention since she spoke in support of Huntington Beach’s plan to file a lawsuit against California to challenge the legality of state mandates that expand protections for undocumented immigrants.

The OC Weekly reported on the “colored people” comment days after the City Council approved the lawsuit early this month.

It isn’t clear when Larrea-Van Der Mark made the comments, which have been deleted.

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @vegapriscella


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