A California middle school teacher who admitted she “totally stalked” student online activity to identify candidates for an LGBTQ club said her explosive comments were made “tongue in cheek,” according to a new report.
Buena Vista Middle School staffers Lori Caldeira and Kelly Baraki ignited an ongoing controversy in the small Spreckels Union School District after they spoke about their recruitment approach at an October LGBTQ conference.
“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing schoolwork,” Caldeira said at the gathering. “One of them was Googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”
An attendee recorded the remarks and sent them to journalist Abigail Shrier, who later wrote about the matter.
The school’s LGBTQ club, called You Be You, has since been suspended and the teachers have been on administrative leave pending an ongoing internal investigation.
In her first comments since the controversy mushroomed, one of the teachers told the San Francisco Chronicle that she and her colleague did not set out to surveil kids and were using approved GoGuardian tracking software.
The program, which saw widespread adoption during the onset of remote learning, allows teachers to see what their students are doing in order to prevent online misconduct.
“I see a site that’s emblazoned with rainbows,” Caldeira said. “How am I not going to notice that?”
Caldeira and Baraki also conceded that they purposefully limited documentation of the club or its members in order to limit parental knowledge of its workings.
Some families objected to the tactics and said the teachers were attempting to supplant parents as the primary influences in their kids’ lives.
But the teachers told the outlet that students were already under the sway of social media platforms, and that they were addressing pre-existing questions and concerns rather than raising them.
“Their parents think we start that conversation, but we don’t,” Caldeira said. “TikTok starts it, Snapchat starts it, Instagram starts it or their classmates start it, and then we just try to answer the questions as honestly and fairly as we can.”
The teachers said they were concerned about the well-being of the club’s members now that it has been temporarily disbanded.
“Can you imagine? Seriously, we have kids in our club right now who are out at school, (but) they’re not out at home. The only two teachers that they have ever spoken to have been taken away,” Caldeira said.
The club, the teachers said, offered an outlet to kids who were uncomfortable broaching LGBTQ matters at home.
The controversy mushroomed again earlier this month after a district parent said her daughter’s name and pronouns were changed without her consent and that the school called Child Protective Services on her for objecting.
“You took away my ability to parent my child, even before I had any knowledge,” Jessica Konen said at the meeting. “I didn’t even get to show support. You asked for support, I didn’t get the chance.”
The case against Konen and her husband was later dropped.
The district has not yet given a timeline for its probe or the potential reinstatement of the club and the two teachers.
Caldeira and Baraki told the Chronicle they are afraid to leave their homes in the wake of the firestorm and that they have received threats.