Education

Westboro Baptist Church to protest at Sacramento, Rocklin schools

Rocklin's Kaelin Swaney named teacher of the year

Rocklin kindergarten teacher Kaelin Swaney, who was criticized after she read a book about a transgender child during story time in June, was named teacher of the year Monday by the California Charter Schools Association.
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Rocklin kindergarten teacher Kaelin Swaney, who was criticized after she read a book about a transgender child during story time in June, was named teacher of the year Monday by the California Charter Schools Association.

The Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket outside a Rocklin elementary school over a kindergarten teacher’s June 2017 dictation of "I Am Jazz," the real-life story of a transgender youth, after a stop at Mira Loma High School in Sacramento earlier that morning.

Rocklin Academy Gateway teacher Kaelin Swaney was named the California Charter Schools Association’s 2017 teacher of the year after she read transgender teen Jazz Jennings’ children's book, which includes lines such as "I have a girl brain, but a boy body." A transgender kindergartner had brought Swaney the book and asked her to read it aloud during the class’ story time.

In response to Swaney’s recognition last month, Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket outside Rocklin Academy Gateway from 8:30 to 9 a.m. May 9. Members of the group will also "plead repentance" as students arrive at Mira Loma High School from 7:15 to 7:45 that morning, though no act in particular at Mira Loma seems to have sparked their outrage.

"Westboro Baptist Church will picket the Sodomite-pushing, transgender-promoting Rocklin Academy Gateway [to hell] elementary school," the group's event flier reads.

A counterprotest during the Rocklin event is being sponsored by the Gender Health Center. Other Westboro Baptist Church flyers and the group’s official picket schedule indicate protesters will instead visit a high school graduation May 9 in Kansas City.

San Juan Unified School District spokeswoman Raj Rai said the protesters wouldn't be allowed on Mira Loma's campus but would likely be on public streets leading up to the school.

Rai said she didn't know why the church members would come to Mira Loma other than the fact that its International Baccalaureate program draws many minority students. Fifty-three percent of Mira Loma students identify as African American, Asian or Hispanic, according to the California Department of Education.

Like Rocklin Academy Family of Schools superintendent Robin Stout, Rai said she would be in contact with local law enforcement leading up to the protest.

"Westboro’s hateful rhetoric does not reflect our school or community’s values," said Stout, of Rocklin Academy Family of Schools. "As educators, our top priority is ensuring the safety and security of our students, families and staff and, to the best of our ability, minimizing disruption to the school day. We are in constant contact with Rocklin Police Department to ensure that our plans for the day follow their guidance and help us meet these objectives."

Recognized as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center, among others, the Westboro Baptist Church has made waves over the past three decades by protesting groups of all colors. Jews, Muslims, military veterans, Mormons, LGBTQ people, Catholics, celebrities, divorcees and victims of mass shootings have all been sources of the group’s ire.

The church, which is widely condemned by mainstream Christians, has previously protested at McClatchy and Granite Bay high schools, Sacramento houses of worship and the state Capitol.

In a tweet Friday, Rocklin Vice Mayor Joe Patterson said, "Pretty gross that this 'church' is coming to Rocklin. We don't want their hate or filth."

Benjy Egel: 916-321-1052, @BenjyEgel

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