Last fall, Granite Oaks Middle School teacher Katie Ragan began a seventh-grade English class the way she had nearly every other: with a 10-minute news clip.
She thought nothing of it. It was from CNN 10, formerly known as CNN Student News, a straightforward, fact-based news program for middle and high school students. She had shown the daily news program to students countless times, as had many other teachers around the country, including at Ragan’s Rocklin school.
This particular video, from Oct. 4, focused in part on a California law that would have required public school students to be vaccinated against COVID. The clip characterized the law as controversial and detailed parental views in support of and against the requirement.
Ragan thought her students, most of whom are 12 years old, would be especially interested in the segment because it was about California. She asked them to summarize the clip.
“I don’t want their opinions,” Ragan said. “Just summary.”
And that should have been the end of another ordinary day in one of Rocklin’s seventh-grade classrooms. Instead, it was the beginning of a nightmare that Ragan is still living eight months later.
Less than a week after showing the clip to her students, Ragan received an email from Josh Nagelmann, the father of a student in her class, who was angry that she had shown a clip about COVID vaccinations. It was the first of a series of threatening and bullying emails she received from him over the course of the next few weeks.
“If you brainwash our children anymore with this propaganda you will be held liable in court,” Nagelmann wrote to her on Oct. 11. “I recommend you come to the district meeting on the 20th because I will be putting you on notice.”
Initially, Ragan responded to Nagelmann. But she stopped engaging as the emails “got nastier and nastier,” she said.
“What kind of teacher pushes propaganda on our children!?” Nagelmann wrote to Ragan on Oct. 25. “Better be very careful what you preach in the classroom,” he continued, adding, “you don’t have to worry about me as my kid isn’t getting it but the most dangerous people in this world are those (whose) children has been injured or killed out of negligence.”
Ragan, who has been a teacher in the district since 1998, was taken aback.
“This has never happened to me, ever,” she said in an interview. “You get parents who aren’t happy, but not like this.”
She asked Granite Oaks Principal Jay Holmes whether she should stop showing clips of CNN 10. He said “absolutely not” and reassured her that “tons” of teachers use the program, Ragan recalled.
According to Ragan, Holmes dismissed the parent and the concerns he had raised about the video, assuring the teacher he would take care of the issue.
But Holmes didn’t take care of it. According to Ragan, the principal didn’t reach out to Nagelmann until the end of October, after the parent had sent her several threatening emails, which were provided to The Bee, and publicly excoriated her on social media and at school board meetings.
Nagelmann did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
During the Rocklin Unified school board meeting on Oct. 20, Nagelmann singled out Ragan by name, violating a district policy that discourages members of the public from identifying staff members for safety and privacy reasons. Members of the board did not reprimand him or cut him off.
“If it’s all CNN, why not listen to OAN?” Nagelmann asked at the meeting, referring to the far-right, pro-Trump One America News Network. “I don’t think (the board is) the problem; it’s the teachers.”
He closed by threatening members of the school board.
“If you guys push this vaccine, ... you better watch out,” Nagelmann said. “If one of these parents’ kids gets hurt or killed, and if any of you guys voted for that, I’m just telling you — you can call the DOJ. You don’t have to worry about me; I would worry about mama and papa bear.”
The next day, school and district administrators visited Ragan’s classroom and asked how they could support her. Later that day, Rocklin Unified Superintendent Roger Stock showed up. Ragan was surprised he had come in person. “He’s either worried about something or he does feel bad,” she recalled thinking.
Stock “apologized on behalf of the board and says he’s so sorry, they should’ve stopped the meeting,” Ragan said. She said she asked the superintendent whether she should stop showing CNN 10 in class, but he also said no, noting that it was acceptable under the California Education Code.
Stock said he had visited Ragan to “see how she was doing” and “assured her that we wanted students to learn to think critically and that using supplemental resources was helpful to achieve that goal.” Both Scott Roark, a spokesman for the California Department of Education, and Rocklin Unified spokesman Sundeep Dosanjh confirmed that CNN 10 is in line with guidance outlined by the code.
Despite assurances that school and district leaders would support her, Ragan kept receiving emails from Nagelmann. He also posted her name, school and an email she had sent him on social media, Ragan said.
“I was having a bad time at this point,” she recalled. “I was publicly shamed. My reputation got crapped on.”
She suddenly felt uneasy about going out in public, worried about attending community events and got nervous about going places as routine as the gym.
“This was my comfort zone, and now I’m not comfortable anymore,” she said.
At this point, a representative from the California Teachers Association stepped in, advising Ragan to take a stress-related leave. On Oct. 28, Ragan left her class, and she didn’t return.
Meanwhile, the school principal and district administrators met with Nagelmann but without any representative for Ragan. Nagelmann asked that administrators send a letter to all parents of Ragan’s students saying the video she had shown was biased and concerning.
Appallingly, they did.
“Our staff will be looking at how bias can be seen in different media outlets and will be discussing how we can keep biased opinions out of our lessons for students,” Holmes wrote to parents of Ragan’s students on Nov. 15 — though not to the parents of students in other classes that had also watched CNN 10.
District turns its back
On Facebook, Nagelmann posts often about conspiracy theories ranging from “chemical trails” to fake NASA and CIA documents that “prove” the Earth is flat and not rotating. On Feb. 25, he posted that CNN “uses propaganda and mind control to get people upset and emotional.”
But the conspiracy theories Nagelmann posts about most are related to COVID, including false claims that COVID vaccines are inherently dangerous, causing blood clots and even death. Several of Nagelmann’s posts appear with a “False Information” warning from Facebook, and he has posted at least three times about being temporarily suspended from the platform.
Why would Rocklin Unified administrators, who just weeks earlier wrote off the parent, go on to kowtow to him while kicking a veteran educator to the curb?
For those familiar with Rocklin Unified’s leadership, the move, while dismaying, isn’t all that surprising. Almost since the start of the pandemic, school board members have catered to a small but vocal minority of anti-mask and anti-vax parents and community members. In June 2021, the district formally urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to lift a classroom mask mandate.
In March, the board approved a contract for legal services with Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a nonprofit law firm that believes “America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles” and that “traditional family structure” and “religious freedoms” are being eroded. The district is a plaintiff in litigation over Newsom’s use of his emergency powers during the pandemic.
‘Not supporting teachers’
The letter to parents of Ragan’s students soon started circling among Granite Oaks teachers. Disturbed at Ragan’s treatment, some of her fellow teachers confronted Holmes. According to one current Rocklin Unified teacher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from district leaders, the principal admitted that CNN 10 was not biased and that Ragan had done nothing wrong.
Dosanjh, the district spokesman, said “a handful of parents expressed concern to the school principal” about the use of CNN 10 in the classroom. He also said that the principal acknowledged that the CNN 10 clip Ragan showed was evenhanded, presenting “both sides of the argument.”
So why was the letter sent to parents? Ragan’s colleagues were left wondering the same thing.
“I was very surprised (at) how much control ... the board (gave) to a very vocal minority of parents,” said the teacher who asked not to be identified. “I realize parents need to be involved in their children’s education, but I feel in this instance, the parents were able to bully their way to the result they wanted.”
The district’s counsel finally sent Nagelmann a letter demanding that he cease and desist contacting the teacher a month after his first email. Two days later, Nagelmann showed up at another school board meeting to complain about a “history teacher” who had shown her class CNN 10.
Travis Mougeotte, president of the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association, said the district’s handling of the situation “was a prime example of not supporting teachers.”
“In the end, what happened was a lot of students lost a really good teacher for most of their school year,” Mougeotte said.
Substitute teachers took over Ragan’s class for the remainder of the term.
Ragan unsure about return
Ragan is still deciding whether she will return to Granite Oaks next school year. Her decision largely hinges on an unresolved workers’ compensation claim regarding her stress leave. The district is challenging her claim, and Ragan is worried she might lose money she is owed.
Dosanjh said Rocklin Unified “is committed to ensuring the mental health and well-being of all of its employees.”
One only has to look at what happened to Ragan for that statement to fall flat. Abandoned by a school principal she previously adored working with and district leaders she trusted, Ragan was vilified for showing an innocuous news clip to her students in a district that proved incapable of standing up to extremism.
Although Ragan has signed a letter of intent to return, she is unsure whether she will. If her case is not resolved before school starts, she will be forced to take an unpaid leave of absence. And even if she is able and willing to return to class, she wonders whether Granite Oaks would be able to accommodate her ongoing safety concerns.
“This dad, on back-to-school night, could walk into my classroom,” Ragan said. “How do they keep that from happening? They can’t. They created this mess, and they put me in the position of having to leave the career that I loved.
“I’ve been a good teacher. I was angry at the end of the school year because I missed out, but now I’m tired and I’m sad it’s come to this.”