Andrew Cruz, vice president of the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education in Chino, Calif., is shown at an August 2015 board meeting. Hundreds of parents are calling for his resignation after divisive comments he made at the previous month’s meeting. Credit: Chino Valley Unified School District

Hundreds of parents are calling for the resignation of the vice president of a Southern California school board, which already has drawn a lawsuit over proselytizing from the dais, after he railed against gay marriage, adoptions by gay couples and immigration during a public meeting.

At a July meeting of the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, Andrew Cruz spent 10 minutes touching on a litany of hot-button topics, saying that racism played no role in the recent South Carolina church shootings and that mandatory vaccinations for children are “un-American.” He blamed “illegal aliens” from Central America for bringing infectious disease, including Ebola, into America and argued that children should be raised only by their biological parents.

“Children are not commodities that can be justifiably severed from their natural parentage and traded between unrelated adults,” Cruz said. “Parenting will be defined, erasing and replacing with gender-neutral legal parent. … Gender of parents matter for the development of healthy children.”

Now, even some of his supporters from the conservative church that helped elect him, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, think Cruz went too far.

“I thought his rant was unprofessional and that he should apologize,” said Russell Mills, a member of the church who had publicly supported Cruz’s right to pray during past board meetings. “He made a mistake, but I think he’s served his duties well for the school district.”

But many others think Cruz needs to go.

“That rant was so divisive and inflammatory,” said Nicole Gockel, a parent of three district students. “This is not a Christian versus non-Christian or a conservative versus liberal thing. We want someone to represent all of our kids. He’s not fit to serve our kids.”

Cruz’s comments have brought renewed attention to the board’s frequent practice of veering into political and religious speech during public school board meetings, as Reveal reported earlier this year.

The majority of the board members, including Cruz, attend the evangelical megachurch Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, where Pastor Jack Hibbs has made it a mission to bridge the separation between church and state. He endorsed the candidates from the pulpit during their campaigns, which violates federal election rules.

Hibbs was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. A Calvary Chapel spokesman said it was not the church’s place to comment on Cruz’s recent speech.

Cruz, a former middle school librarian, was elected to the school board in 2012, netting more than 12,200 votes with almost no campaigning, according to local news reports.

Cruz and James Na, another board member, both heeded the Calvary Chapel pastor’s call, frequently praying from the dais during board meetings, introducing Bible classes into public schools and passing resolutions to oppose transgender students’ right to choose which bathroom to use.

“For the past week, I kid you not, I’ve been hearing: ‘I can only imagine seeing the glory of God and dancing with Jesus,’ ” Cruz said during an October 2013 meeting. Quoting 1 Corinthians, he continued: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture, and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scripture.”

Several parents in the district filed a lawsuit in November through the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The board decided to fight the lawsuit, maintaining that members have the right to pray and enlisting a conservative values law firm to combat what they called secular bullying.

That case is ongoing and in discovery. Andrew Seidel, the lawyer for Freedom From Religion, said there won’t be a jury trial and his group will be pushing for a judge to grant summary judgment.

On the prayer issue, hundreds of community members signed a petition supporting school board prayer and showed up at board meetings in a show of support for Cruz and Na. But this time, Cruz’s rant has alienated some of his supporters, too.

“I will admit, I voted for Mr. Cruz,” Tyra Weis, a community member, said during last week’s meeting. “My disappointment in him revolves around his decision to spew racist, homophobic and scientifically unproven opinions that are opposed to what this community believes.”

Gockel started a Facebook group last month called Concerned Parents & Citizens of CVUSD to demand that Cruz step down. The Facebook group now has nearly 800 members, and she said at least 100 community members have written letters directly to Cruz and to the district calling for his resignation.

At a board meeting last week, 18 parents, students and community members publicly demanded that Cruz resign. Cruz apologized for what he called his “hasty” remarks, but added that he spoke from the heart.

“If my comments made, derived from research and news media reports, may have left you victimized, please accept my sincere apologies,” Cruz said, reading from a piece of paper. “ ’Cause that’s not who I am.”

“It may have been misguided, but it was from my heart, of the things I had seen and the direction of this country that it’s going towards. And you may not accept that,” he said, before he was cut off by another board member.

Cruz gave no indication that he would step down and did not respond to requests for comment from Reveal.

Those pushing for his resignation say an apology is not enough. Gockel said parents, teachers and students have been speaking with San Bernardino County political consultant Chris Robles about gathering signatures to recall Cruz.

Robles said it would take about nine months to go through the process of submitting paperwork and gathering signatures for a recall. It could take an additional five months, he said, to set a date for a recall election, which the district would have to fund. Cruz’s term expires at the end of 2016.

“Right now, we are hoping he’ll do the right thing and resign,” Gockel said. “To do a recall would cost the district an incredible amount of money. They’re already losing money from the Freedom From Religion lawsuit because they wouldn’t stop praying. We don’t want to take money away from the schools. But that being said, we want to have someone who represents every child and every family, and Cruz doesn’t do that.”

Amy Julia Harris

Amy Julia Harris is a reporter for Reveal, covering vulnerable communities. She and Reveal reporter Shoshana Walter exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting and won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. It also led to four government investigations, including two criminal probes and four federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery and fraud.

Harris was a Livingston Award for Young Journalists finalist for her investigation into the lack of government oversight of religious-based day cares, which led to tragedies for children in Alabama and elsewhere. In a previous project for Reveal, she uncovered widespread squalor in a public housing complex in the San Francisco Bay Area and traced it back to mismanagement and fraud in the troubled public housing agency.

Before joining Reveal, Harris was an education reporter at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. She has also written for The Seattle Times, Half Moon Bay Review, and Campaigns and Elections Politics Magazine.