by Jacob Adelman, Associated Press
Four members of a suburban school board are being targeted in a recall effort over their support for a middle-school language program funded by the Chinese government, one of the members said Friday.
Hacienda La Puente Unified School Board President Jay Chen said he and the three other members of the five-member panel were being served with notices of intent to circulate recall petitions, each signed by 12 residents of Hacienda Heights in east Los Angeles County.
Chen, along with board members Norman Hsu, Joseph Chang and Anita Perez, voted last year to approve the agreement with China's international language-teaching agency to cooperate on the so-called Confucius Classroom Mandarin program.
Under the program, which already is in place at dozens of other schools across the United States, the district was to receive $30,000 a year for language and culture programs at Cedarlane Middle School, along with some 1,000 textbooks, CDs and other educational materials.
The program attracted scorn from some community members, who have said at board meetings it was a vehicle to indoctrinate students with communist ideology and other foreign influences.
The recall petition served to Chen claims he "believes that the United States will be subservient to China and manipulates students to serve China's government," among other claims.
Chen said he was surprised that a program as seemingly innocuous as Confucius Classroom would inspire such rancor.
"I do sense a strain of xenophobia and even racism," he said. "There's a real fear of China that permeates some of the allegations."
He added that most of the Confucius Classroom opponents do not have children in the school district, and the program is generally popular among parents and teachers.
A directory service operator had no telephone listing for petition organizer Rudolph Obad.
Hsu, Chang, Perez and District Superintendent Barbara Nakaoka did not return messages.
Chen said he believed the recall effort was prompted by a recent vote to approve the teaching materials for classroom use.
School officials had previously decided to refuse the $30,000 grant amid the strong community resistance. They also turned down an offer to have the Chinese government place a teaching assistant in Cedarlane and pay his or her salary.
The petitioners' next step in the recall process is to file their notice of intent with the county registrar-recorder's office then collect signatures to get the matter on an upcoming ballot. The register-recorder's office did not answer a phone call seeking to ask how many signatures must be collected.
Chen Zhunmin, who directs the Chinese consulate's education office in Los Angeles, said Hacienda Heights was the only community he has encountered where the Confucius Classroom program has stoked controversy.
He said many schools have contacted the consulate seeking to set up programs.
"Confucius Classroom has nothing to do with ideology," he said. "Its primary role has to do with the teaching of language and also to promote mutual understanding."
Here's a Daily Show clip from June 7, 2010 about the Chinese language program (if anyone has links for people who can't view the clip at the site, please post them!).
And here's a recall petition for Jay F. Chen. Check out that list of reasons.