Cupertino Union School District board member Lori Cunningham said she experienced efforts to harass and intimidate her and her family over the past year, as the board has grappled with a string of controversial topics.
Cunningham served as board president last year, as the district responded to the pandemic and an ongoing budget crisis that led the board to consider permanently closing multiple schools. Many in the community were upset. Cunningham said she first realized things were escalating when she received a pair of profanity-laced calls to her home phone in the middle of the night last fall.
“It was just a string of obscenities yelled into the phone,” she said. “It’s blocked caller ID, middle of the night.”
The following week, while she was in a virtual meeting with CUSD staff, her son – 11 years old at the time – came running into the room, panicked. A car had stopped outside their home and honked continuously, prompting her kids to poke their faces between the blinds. The person in the car then pointed and laughed at her younger son and sped away, Cunningham said.
She said the incident “rattled” her enough that she reported it to the Los Altos Police Department. Cunningham forwarded the Town Crier a confirmation of the event report from the police department.
“It just felt different, to have somebody show up at your house,” she said. “Could it have been random? Of course, it could have been random. Do I think it was random? No, I don’t. I think we were targeted, because it was at the same time these calls had been going.”
Since then, Cunningham has seen and received messages and had other interactions she said also went too far. In one instance, she was on a video call with a group of parents when a participant said he was putting a “sword to your neck” over school closures.
Cunningham is currently the subject of a recall effort led by parents who say she held back efforts to reopen schools as board president. Cunningham said that to her knowledge, none of those who filed the recall paperwork with the county are among those who have directly harassed her.
Having to worry about her safety isn’t something Cunningham expected when she ran for the board.
“I wasn’t running for a state office. I wasn’t running for even a county office. I was running for the school board. That’s not supposed to be an unsafe place,” Cunningham said. “Schools … and things related to schools are not ever supposed to be unsafe places.”
Based on the messages and interactions she’s had, Cunningham said the community is holding her personally responsible in a way that other board members haven’t experienced. Current board president Jerry Liu said he agrees Cunningham has experienced more backlash than the rest of the board.
“My heart goes out to Lori for that. That’s not right,” Liu said. “Nobody should have to bear this for doing what really is public service.”
Cunningham said she didn’t speak out sooner because she knew people were suffering during the pandemic, and didn’t want to add “one more thing” for the district to deal with. However, she decided it isn’t productive to stay silent.
“I would never accept another woman being treated this way, but I was willing to let myself be treated this way, because I was trying so hard to do the right thing, trying so hard not to create more waves,” she said.