School Board candidate files extensive public records request for PUSD K-12 curriculum materials

Shirley Hooi is one of three candidates vying for two spots on the PUSD Board of Education.

Piedmont Unified School District officials say it will likely be early November before records requested by one school board candidate in August can be delivered to her, given the breadth of the material that candidate requested.

Shirley Hooi’s California Public Records Act request, dated Aug. 26, asks for records of PUSD K-12 curriculum materials dated from August 2018 to present; teacher and staff training materials from August 2020 to present, including “copies of instructional materials”, instructor manuals and guides, training assignments and presentations and records pertaining to third-party contractors including related training materials, contracts and correspondence.

“Due to the large amount of information requested and subsequent time required by PUSD staff, we estimate providing non-exempt, non-privileged, disclosable records deemed responsive to this request on or about Friday, Nov. 11,” school district spokesman Brian Killgore told the Exedra in an email. 

The time required to gather that information, the president of Piedmont’s teachers union said last week, will be a “huge, huge imposition” on the district’s 200 teachers, who will be tasked with finding the information Hooi seeks and presenting it to the district.

“If we’re asking teachers to take on dozens of extra hours for this, that’s time we don’t have to prepare lessons or to help seniors with their college applications,” said Elise Marks, a high school English teacher and president of the Association of Piedmont Teachers.

Hooi is one of three candidates vying for two open seats on the Piedmont school board in the Nov. 8 election. Hooi is facing off against Ruchi Medhekar and Lindsay Thomasson. All three are first-time candidates for elected office.

Killgore would not comment on any specifics of Hooi’s records request until the asked-for information has been collected and reviewed. He also declined to provide an estimate of how much fulfilling this request will cost, in money, materials and/or manpower, “until the project is finished.” The date of the election, Nov. 8, has nothing to do with the estimated Nov. 11 date for Hooi’s requested records to be ready, said Killgore, adding that that date could be moved up if the material is ready sooner.

It is unclear whether Hooi is looking for something specific within the documentation she seeks, or what that specific information could be. Hooi did not respond to a short series of questions posed by the Exedra, including whether she is looking for anything in the Piedmont schools curriculum related to Critical Race Theory (the academic study of racism’s pervasive impact), diversity, equity and inclusion or other elements of what she, in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, described as “woke culture.”

In a June 9, 2021 letter to the Piedmont Post, she wrote, “Will our children continue to be made to feel guilty or beneath themselves because of their skin color? Will our children be indoctrinated into Marxist-based race ideology? We hope that this is not the case.”

In an April 2021 letter to the Post, Hooi – who described herself as a “Chinese mother raising two kids who are half-white” – said, “Although I applaud Piedmont Unified School District for exposing students to the racial and economic inequalities that Black Americans experience, these teachings have created a profusion of ‘white guilt’ for my children while they struggle to discern their Chinese side (especially during this period of increased Asian hate attacks).”

Public information requests have become an increasingly common tool for school activists of all stripes, from conservatives looking to battle “woke” policies to liberals who want to make classrooms more inclusive.

In California, the Public Records Act, made part of the state constitution in 1968, requires inspection or disclosure of governmental records to the public upon request, except for records specifically exempted by law.

Marks said neither Hooi nor anyone else will find anything about Critical Race Theory in Piedmont’s curriculum, because it isn’t there. CRT, Marks said, is rarely found in public education curricula other than in advanced college-level programs.

Marks said that Piedmont schools work to teach history as accurately as possible, and that doing so often highlights events and policies that can make people uncomfortable. 

“We talk about slavery, lynchings, redlining … the many injustices that have happened through the course of history,” she said. “Most of the community wants our kids to be exposed to history in its fullness and its complexity.” Some of that, Marks said, is uncomfortable to revisit.

“I don’t see how you have education that doesn’t make people uncomfortable,” she added. “That’s how we learn.”

In the April 2021 letter, Hooi said discussion of such issues is warranted, to a point. “By no means am I sweeping the past and present-day race issues under the rug, but there should be limitations of these teachings by PUSD. I thank PUSD for acknowledging the many issues that we face today, but I believe PUSD should yield to families the in-depth discussion of race issues, along with political viewpoints, due to unrestrained and undue influences.”

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12 thoughts on “School Board candidate files extensive public records request for PUSD K-12 curriculum materials

  1. This request for PUSD transparency is a ruse. Sending an entire school community on a scavenger hunt? This is a direct contradiction to Ms. Hooi’s evasive campaign. Her campaign is replete with holes – refusal to answer questions, broad vague responses, and third-person replies. Distractions, deflections, smokescreens, wasted time and resources. Ms. Hooi’s own lack of transparency poses a threat to Piedmont’s electoral accountability.

    • Your comment seems overly hostile to a woman seeking volunteer office. Your assertion that she “poses a threat to Piedmont’s electoral accountability” makes no sense in light of the fact that if not for her candidacy there would be two candidates for two spots…..hardly a “race” at all. Is that what you would have preferred?

      • Let’s stay on topic. Transparency matters. Your response is a fog of words…digression and distraction. I would request Ms. Hooi to be transparent in her campaign.

      • Ms. Hooi declines to answer questions and her resume is questionably ambiguous. The credibility, integrity, character and veracity of each candidate is scrutinized. If the public fails to question candidate ambivalence or indeed fails to detect candidate mendacity, this poses challenges to fair and free dissemination of ideas that comprises political discourse. Candidate transparency and honesty is vital. Board work is one of responsible leadership in the community, governance and accountability.

  2. As a parent of two students in the district I see no reason why this information is not easily accessible. It should not even be necessary to file a records request to get information on what is being taught in our local schools. Education is a partnership between parents and teachers. Ultimately every parent or caretaker is responsible for the successful education of the child. We all need this information and I appreciate Ms. Hooi taking steps to make it available. Transparency matters, this request should not be news.

    • .All parents are able to get the curriculum that their child is being taught during the year from your child’s teacher(s)so there is already transparency and it’s available on many websites. This request isn’t adding to that transparency but rather creating chaos for the sake of chaos. Secondly by asking for every pamphlet, booklet etc you are having the district reach out to every teacher as curriculum can be taught in a myriad of ways, one teacher might choose “x” to illustrate their point, another uses “y” so that is a burden. Teachers do not file lesson plans with the district so it’s not as of there is a computer file that can be sent.Finally, without any discernible purpose for the request Ms Hooi will be given a ream if information that she has no background to evaluate. She isn’t a teacher, she isn’t an educator so why would her opinion about state mandated curriculum matter to most of us?

      • Every parent is an educator. And regardless of your opinion of her ability to evaluate the data she is legally entitled to it. Opinions don’t matter when law is involved.

  3. It is a reasonable request to ask about the curriculum that is being taught to ones children. It is hard to believe that there are so many requests that it will take a month to deliver the results.

    In school a student is should be taught how to think and not what to think. If the teachers are influenced by outside trainers it is important to know who they are and their agenda. School should be for learning and not for indoctrination. If the records show that there is no ideological bias, then it puts that fear to rest.

    CRT is usually only in the domain of higher study but at the elementary level there may now be emphasis on racial and gender identity which is better left to the parents.

    Ms Hooi should not be criticized for looking out for what is in the best interest of her children

    • Only one candidate has request voluminous back dated multi-source information.
      A functioning board must not be secretive or self serving. A board member serves the community, not the interests of her own children.

  4. While records requests are always time consuming and burdensome, this request seems to be seeking a needle in a haystack. Is there a reason why an objection has not been made to this unduly burdensome request to huge volumes of material? Has the request by Ms. Hooi been clearly framed? What exactly is being sought? Ms. Hooi is running for school board and should be broaching that position from a position of knowledge, information and accountability to our teachers, administrators, and larger parent community. A reciprocal transparency and ease of communication should be the norm. However, this records request is not productive. It does nothing to promote civil civic discourse around her stated areas of concern or inspire confidence in Ms. Hooi’s potential leadership abilities. While I firmly believe no one in Piedmont is seeking a mantle of victimhood for their children or has an eagerness to label any children as oppressors; I also believe that good intention alone does not allow for shutting down concerns regarding how kids are learning materials that will inform their moral compass, their identities and worth. We need to elect leaders that can bridge these divides and seek meaningful engagement with our schools, not hyperbole and needless attention-seeking disruption.

  5. I just don’t understand why someone running for school board would create such a huge distraction for the teachers in our schools, instead of supporting the work going on in our schools. Our kids need our teachers’ attention on students and teaching.

  6. If you want your kid to get into Harvard (or any other high achieving school) or even survive in the world as it is changing, ya gotta teach them about racism, Ms Hooi. I grew up in Piedmont, went through all of Piedmont schools, and was NOT prepared for life in many ways ESPECIALLY not in being taught to understand systemic racist systems and their roots, my part in it, as a white person, my own white fragility or privilege. I could care less if my kids are rich and successful if they aren’t also empathetic, steeped in the understanding our their own privilege, their own fragility and how the color of their skin fits into the history of how this country, even if they are, themselves, not perpetrators of hate. if they don’t have context, they can’t grow and they can’t show up for others.