Before the Saugus Union school board meeting got underway, the regularly scheduled public comment period during Tuesday night’s meeting featured a number of opinions regarding a gesture by David Barlavi, the school district’s representative for Trustee Area No. 1.
A picture, taken during the Jan. 7 meeting of the SCV Water Agency’s board, shows Barlavi with his right hand over his heart and his left hand in a fist raised in the air. He repeated the gesture once again during the pledge of allegiance before the school district’s meeting.
Protesters said they found it disrespectful to the American flag and unbecoming of the elected position Barlavi holds.
“When we say the pledge of allegiance or national anthem we show our country respect and to pledge our loyalty to our country, but when Mr. Barlavi shows his fist, it’s very disrespectful,” said Greg Aprahamian. “David Barlavi is anti-American and has no business making policy decisions for our school district and he should not be within 10 feet of our students.”
However, according to Barlavi, the gesture is an indication of his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and something he’s always done.
“I’ve been raising my hand during the pledge and national anthem, for years now… I do it every time,” he said. “It’s in support of Black Lives Matter, and it’s not really related to any school board stuff.”
During the meeting, critics of Barlavi denounced the action as “anti-American,” calling for the board members to remove their fellow trustee from his seat.
“You don’t have to respect what he’s doing because it’s un-American, unpatriotic and he’s a traitor to what Americans work for, live for and our members of the military have fought (for),” said Raul Rodriguez Jr., addressing the other board members. “And because of them you have rights… but he doesn’t have the right to disrespect the military.”
However, citizens speaking in support of Barlavi said his gesture is a protected First Amendment right, and he’s educating both children and their families about current social issues.
“It’s an opportunity for us to open dialogue about cultural awareness in our homes,” said Shara Darden. “If you think that children of color haven’t noticed what’s happening on the football fields and in our communities, they are. My children come home and ask about it, and they’re talking about it as well.”
Before the conclusion of the meeting, protesters also referenced posts made by the board member on his private social media account in regards to his stances on immigration.
“Mr. Barlavi has first amendment rights like any members of the public who want to come here and exercise their first amendment rights,” said Julie Olsen, SUSD board president. “As a government agency, we cannot prevent him from expressing his First Amendment rights.”
When asked if he would respond to the criticism by either stepping down or not raising his fist anymore, Barlavi said that he’d do neither, and that he plans to continue to exercise his rights as he’s always done.