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Saugus Union School District Trustee David Barlavi smiles in front of protestors. Ryan Painter / The Proclaimer

About a dozen protesters filed into the Saugus Union School District’s governing board meeting on Tuesday night to call for a formal censure against Trustee David Barlavi — a first-term board member who has been criticized by some local activists as “anti-American” after raising his clenched fist during the Pledge of Allegiance at a January meeting.

After repeating this gesture again during Tuesday evening’s pledge, Barlavi sat quietly in his seat as the public comment period began, during which speakers voiced their concern over both his gesture and his frequent criticisms of President Donald Trump on Facebook.

“It’s really not related to any school board stuff,” Barlavi told the Proclaimer, who said that his raised fist was in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.  “I’ve been raising my hand during the Pledge of Allegiance and during the national anthem for years now and I don’t just not do it anymore. I don’t make any exceptions. I’ve been doing it for years.”

Despite of the public outcry, the board made no indication that it planned to take any action on Barlavi’s conduct, and Barlavi himself confirmed that he has “no intentions of resigning.”

The tenuous public comment period began after Board President Julie Olsen initially set a 20-minute time limit to discuss the topic. However, since there were still three speakers left once 20 minutes was over, the board later voted to extend the time limit so all of the speakers could speak.

After interjecting to reprimand Olsen for attempting to cap the discussion time, Greg Aprahamian sharply criticized Barlavi.

“David Barlavi is anti-American and he has no business making policy decisions for our school district and he should not be within 10-feet of our students,” he said. “We have David Barlavi here, but he needs to be censured. This is a disastrous thing for our children to see and you need to censure him, you need to remove him and I ask that (Barlavi) resign too.”

Several attendees in addition to Aprahamian also believed that Barlavi’s gesture was insensitive to the military.

“What he’s doing is un-American, unpatriotic and he’s a traitor to what the Americans live for and work for,” Raul Rodriguez Jr., a veteran who addressed the board while wearing a shirt adorned with Trump’s face, said. “Not only that, it’s wrong because what you’re doing is so wrong I just get so upset when you stand up there and raise your fist.”  

Rodriguez, like many of the night’s speakers, held a homemade poster with “Barlavi is anti [sic] American,” scribbled in capital blue letters across the center. Others held similar signs bearing slogans such as “Barlavi endorsed by Katie Hill.” Some signs deviated from local issues in favor of national politics, with phrases like “Build our wall,” “President Trump declare a national emergency” and “America, love it or leave it.”

After discussing Barlavi’s raised fist, Rodriguez pivoted away from the issue and began to discuss the trustee’s views on abortion.

“Stop killing babies,” he said to Barlavi. “The Democrats love to kill babies, I call them ‘baby-killers,’ that’s what they are, they kill babies, and it’s wrong to kill babies.”

Rodriguez finished with a word of advice for the newly-minted board member.

“You sir, you need to change what you’re doing,” Rodriguez said. “One day you’re going to run across the wrong person and he’s going—I don’t know what he’s going to do but its not going to work out for you.”

Since a potential censure of Barlavi was not an agendized item at Tuesday meeting, no action was taken by the board.

Following the conclusion of public comment, some activists repeated their original intent in attending the meeting — to ask the board to reprove Barlavi.

“If it’s at all possible, I don’t know that it is because we have all kinds of legal protections, I wish that they would prohibit, if they could, or censure the raised fist and also his disrespect for President Trump,” local resident Len Unkeless told the Proclaimer. “They should hold him to a very high standard. How he comports himself on the board himself may be perfectly fine…I just don’t like his politics because I think they’re dangerous for this country.”

Despite being the object of most of the night’s most searing critiques, Barlavi remained optimistic about his position on the board and about Santa Clarita’s political climate.

“I’m in direct opposition to everything they say, we’re on opposite polar sides of the equation, but it takes a tremendous amount of courage to come to a board meeting and stand at that podium and talk negatively about someone whose on the desk,” Barlavi said of the protesters. “So I give them great credit for their courage and I love the fact that they were here and I was hoping they would hang out so I could talk to them after the closed session.”

Barlavi reiterated that he believes his social media posts critiquing the president are justified. Born in Iran before immigrating to the United States as a child, Barlavi compared Trump to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in an interview with the Proclaimer.

“I wish you would have seen the irony of telling me to be quiet amidst America’s Khomeini telling me that I did a great thing to escape our actual Khomeini in Iran,” Barlavi said. “In Iran we didn’t have a constitution, we didn’t have the bill of rights, so there was nothing to prevent Ayatollah Khomeini from devastating the people and doing whatever he wants. Fortunately, here we have separation of powers, we have the constitution, but I have no doubt in my mind that if we didn’t have the constitution and those stopgaps in place, Donald Trump would be acting a lot like a dictator.”

This article was updated to include the amount of protesters at the meeting and clarify board proceedings.

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Protesters accuse SUSD trustee David Barlavi of anti-Americanism
Article Name
Protesters accuse SUSD trustee David Barlavi of anti-Americanism
Protesters accused Saugus Union School District Trustee David Barlavi of being “anti-American” after he raised a fist during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Publisher Name
The Santa Clarita Proclaimer
Ryan Painter

Ryan Painter covers government and politics for The Proclaimer. He has worked at the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, the Daily Trojan and as a campaign staffer during 2018 midterm elections. A 2016 West Ranch graduate, Ryan studies Political Science and International Relations at USC. Find him on Twitter @ryan_pintor.

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