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Board of Ed Candidate Debate Canceled After Scheduling Controversy

School board contender Frances Bilak had emailed the BHHS student organizer of the event, saying she would alert local media and synagogues that the forum had been scheduled on a Friday evening when some Jewish residents celebrate the Sabbath.

The final debate between the four candidates running for three district school board seats has been canceled after one of the candidates sent an email to the Beverly Hills High School student organizer criticizing the decision to schedule the event on a Friday evening, the time that many Jews celebrate the Sabbath. 

"The Last Word: The Last Election Debate" had been planned for 6 p.m. on Nov. 4, four days before the Nov. 8 election. It was organized by Max Schwartz, a BHHS senior who hosts a talk show on KBEV6, the high school’s student television station. 

Board candidate and El Rodeo parent wrote an email to Schwartz on Oct. 17 that said she was “deeply disappointed” by his decision to schedule the debate at that time. Bilak wrote the email though she had allegedly accepted Schwartz’s request to attend the Nov. 4 debate when he extended the invitation after the Oct. 5 Beverly Hills Education Foundation teen debate.

“I will be letting the newspapers know tomorrow as well as the synagogues know of your decision. I had told them that I believed you would respect the Sabbath and everyone’s decision to have dinner with their families on the Sabbath,” she wrote in the email. All of the emails cited in this story were reviewed by Patch and reported here verbatim.

Less than 12 hours later, Schwartz sent an email to all of the candidates canceling the event.

“I regret this decision as I was trying to create a positive event for the community,” he wrote.

The misunderstanding began when Schwartz sent an email on Aug. 30 to all four school board candidates inviting them to the Nov. 4 debate at 6 p.m. Bilak replied the same evening with a question, asking “Is that the one that [former mayor] Les Bronte is involved with?” 

According to Schwartz, Bilak and the other candidates confirmed verbally or in writing that they could attend the debate. But starting Oct. 11, Bilak sent several emails to Schwartz asking him to confirm the time of the debate. After being reminded of the time, Bilak wrote to Schwartz on Oct. 13 asking him to change the date or the time because the event would conflict with the Sabbath. 

“Candlelighting Friday is at 5:41 p.m,” she wrote in the Oct. 13 email. “Many Jewish people want to have Friday nite [sic] dinner with their families and many of those Jewish people happen to observe the Sabbath.” 

Within an hour, Schwartz responded, “I am sorry about your concerns regarding the show; when I sent an email inviting the candidates to the forum, I included the time as well as the date. At this point in time it would be difficult to change the time of the show because all of the candidates have already confirmed their attendance. … With all of this being said, I will consider a time change.” 

He subsequently wrote to Bilak advising her that a time change was not possible. He also answered a query she sent asking when he sent the original debate invitation, noting that he sent it on Aug. 30 at 6:49 p.m.

On Oct. 16, Bilak wrote Schwartz an email that conflicts with her initial response to the Aug. 30 invitation, when she had asked whether Bronte was involved with the event. The Oct. 16 email was copied to fellow candidates , and .

“Yes, I see that you sent me an email on August 30. However I did not respond to that because for whatever reason it ended up in my spam folder, and I did not confirm a November debate until you asked me about it after the teen debate on Oct. 5. … I again, request that you reconsider your decision not to change the date or time,” Bilak wrote.

On Oct. 16, Schwartz replied to Bilak.

“Please know that I will try to arrange a 4 p.m. start time. I will communicate over the next 24 hours to see if this is a viable option for everyone. Please understand that there are [BHHS] classes held until 3:30 p.m.,” he wrote.

The next day, Schwartz emailed the candidates to say that there were “scheduling conflicts” associated with changing the debate time, so it would remain at 6 p.m. on Nov. 4.

“Ms. Bilak, please feel free to send someone to read your opening and closing statements. I apologize in advance that scheduling the debate for an alternative time did not work for the other candidates,” he wrote. 

That email prompted the Oct. 17 reply from Bilak, in which she advised that she would let media and synagogues know of the student’s decision. 

Mitchell Schwartz, Max’s father, said in a statement that his son had “made every attempt to accommodate Ms. Bilak, but in the end had to cancel the televised debate. Ms. Bilak’s intimidation of Max Schwartz is certainly not appropriate and is a repugnant characteristic of a potential Board of Education official.”

Bilak responded to Patch’s request for a comment via email.

“I was first informed by Max Schwartz of this debate on October 5, 2011 and agreed to it, without getting a time. Once he told me what time it was to be, I immediately told him I couldn’t do it, but was willing to do it any other day and time. Because one other candidate was unable to do it at 4-5 p.m. on Friday, Max’s decision was to have it during Shabbat,” she wrote.

Between now and the election, KBEV will still air individual interviews that Schwartz conducted with all four school board candidates. 

Editor's Note: Frances Bilak’s children attend El Rodeo, not Beverly Vista, as originally published.

Be sure to follow Beverly Hills Patch on Twitter and "Like" us on Facebook.

frances bilak October 20, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Friday night dinner has always been special to me. Because of my religious convictions I would not debate on a Friday night. When the email of August 30, came to me I thought it was referencing the Teen Debate, and I never confirmed any election debate unit the evening of October 5. At that date, Max asked if I would attend a debate on November 4, and I said of course, not knowing the day or time until I got home and checked the day. Then I began to ask Max what time it was, and that I hoped it would not be on the Sabbath. That was when he informed me, it would be from 6-7 p.m., and that further that was important because it was "prime time". After, Max informed me by email, that due to another candidates inability to change his schedule to accommodate mine, he would continue the debate during the Sabbath. I checked with all the other candidates and confirmed they could do a debate earlier in the day, and requested the one candidate who couldn't do it earlier to inform Max. The next email I got was that the debate was cancelled. There was no intent to intimidate, just my desire to accommodate all observant Jews and non-Jews who wish to have their Friday night dinners with their families. By the way, i am an El Rodeo parent not Beverly Vista.
Marta Rosen Freud October 20, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Wow! How nasty! There were other ways to handle this--and she should never accept any request without checking her calendar. I do that and I'm not running for anything! I'm surprised that a mother and and anti-bullying candidate would take this stance. Why doesn't she pick on someone her own age? Max did nothing wrong and handled himself very well! People who send their kids to BHUSD know they are not sending their kids to a religious school, where there certainly wouldn't be events scheduled on a Friday night. What about the separation between church and state? I would never vote for this woman!!
Lili Bosse October 20, 2011 at 06:52 PM
frances, i truly understand religious reasons for being unable to attend an event..i myself went to hillel hebrew academy, so i am very sensitive to the religious and traditional celebrations of our religion. i am however greatly disturbed by your behavior to max regarding his inability to change the date and time. i was shocked to see that you threatened to tell synagogues, media etc.. and in fact, i was deeply saddened as i know you are so sensitive to bullying behavior, yet in my personal opinion, your reaction to him, felt to me, of a bullying nature as well. trust me, i understand how trying and stressful running for office is..having just done it myself..it's exhausting and emotionally hard so i am hoping that your reaction to him was in response to the stress toll a campaign can take. i am writing you this morning because i have endorsed you and have given you permission to use my name and council title on your media pieces..however, given the situation that occurred between you and max, i would need for you to make a public apology to him,if you are uncomfortable with this request,i understand,however i would appreciate you remove my name on all further press materials for the remainder of the campaign as i can't support you for office in the board of education race if i feel that respect, tolerance and admiration is not given to one of our community's most finest young men that i know.
Donna Flade October 20, 2011 at 07:26 PM
I respect Frances and her decision not to debate on Shabbat but to bully a child is simply unacceptable. Max Schwartz is a young, intelligent leader who is involved in civic activities (CPR,marathon crowd control,float decorating,Interact to name just a few) and his attempt to showcase ALL of the remaining candidates is to be commended. I'm proud of you, Max!!!
Jennifer Laguna October 20, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Diplomacy is essential in leadership positions. If Francis Bilak can't ease her way out of a bad situation gracefully how will she perform under truly challenging circumstances?
Judy Benowitz October 20, 2011 at 08:04 PM
My compliments go out to Max Schwartz. He handled this situation in a very mature manner. May this experience help you in your future goals.
frances bilak October 20, 2011 at 08:31 PM
I am so sorry that my email to Max Schwartz came across as intimidation. It greatly saddens me that in my enthusiasm to keep the event as inclusive as possible I caused Max to feel bullied in any way. That was never my intention; my friends, family and supporters know that bullying is an issue very dear to me. It's a lesson to us all that sometimes what one person fells is zeal and eagerness can seem to another as intimidation. I have great respect for Max and all of the work he does for the school; I think he's a fine young man who will have a bright future in journalism.  I sincerely apologize to him and his family, and look forward to doing so in person at the earliest opportunity
Marta Rosen Freud October 20, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Strangely enough, I think most people would not describe “I will be letting the newspapers know tomorrow as well as the synagogues know of your decision. I had told them that I believed you would respect the Sabbath and everyone’s decision to have dinner with their families on the Sabbath,” as "zeal and eagerness." I think most people would take that to have a "slightly" intimidating tone. Also, instead of look forwarding to apologizing to Max and his family "in person at the earliest opportunity," may I suggest that she MAKE the opportunity and get herself over to his house this afternoon, man up, and say "I handled this in completely the wrong way and I apologize." And then grovel a bit. You play, you sometimes have to pay, Ms. Bilak.
Marta Rosen Freud October 20, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Ooops--make that "looking forward." In my zeal and eagerness to post this response I made a mistake. Please also note the correct use of "zeal and eagerness."
Nancy Kramer October 20, 2011 at 09:26 PM
First of all, Max, I am so proud of you. You handled this like a true professional and a man with integrity!!! Second of all, I've had my dealings with Ms. Bilak and I know firsthand that she speaks without thinking. And lastly, Marta, I like your style. I want to be your friend!!! I agree 100% with Marta. Ms. Bilak, Max is a very close personal family friend. Man up, and go apologize in person, in writing, send a letter to all the newspapers acknowledging your behavior. Ms. Bilak, you most definitely DO NOT have my vote!!! And I will be voting!!!
jenniferterrell October 20, 2011 at 09:31 PM
Frances, This quote from your email to Max does not constitute enthusiasm.... This is sheer intimidation and bullying.. "i will be letting the newspapers know tomorrow as well as the synagogues know of your decision. I had told them that i believed you would respect the sabbath and everyone's decision to have dinner with their families on the sabbath." . This is a threat that if Max didnt change the time of the show to accomodate you , you were going toi report him to the synagogues and newspapers. I dont think you understand the amount of work iit takes to produce a show on KBEV. Many kids are involved. I think you better look in the dictionary for the definition of enthusiasm. The "bullying " email you sent Max had nothing to do with enthusiasm... Your tone is total intimidation.. this apology is disingenuous.. I am very saddened by the fact that you won't admit that you made a poor decision with your threat. I am sure this apology is due to the fact that you dont want to lose Lili's endorsement. This is very transparent in your apology letter. Why dont you just admit you made a mistake with your words to Max???
Hilary Kornbluth October 20, 2011 at 10:25 PM
Ms. Bilak, "You didn't mean to intimidate him". That constitutes a threat which is clearly 'bullying" to me. When you stated that you would report him to a synagogue and the media. As a mental health professional this is totally unaccepatable behavior for an adult, (especially someone running for school board) not only won't you have my vote but you won't have my son's either.
Greg October 20, 2011 at 10:41 PM
I know Max Schwartz is a fine young man, based on years of direct personal experience. On the other hand, Francis Bilak's behavior is a total disgrace. Pure bullying, intimidation and threatening of a young person. And she wants to be on School Board? Seriously? LMAO, the height of hypocrisy!
Russ Levi October 20, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Regretfully, I must retract my endorsement of Frances Bilak for the BH School Board. We need leaders with genuine compassion for one another even when under the most intense pressure. Our friend Lili was kind in her comment as she is one of our more honest and compassionate city leaders. If we are going forward to help further improve our school district where good candidates are no longer afraid to dirty themselves in today's environment there, we must clean house of angry "outsiders" at any individuals remaining there. Our schools are deficient in many areas, and, we must overcome many past costly errors.There is really no time for further inter-personal trouble. And, our new Superintendent needs this and does not get micromanagement interferance from the school board or other hostile "outsiders". The former student leader of the BHHS Interact service group, Max Schwartz demonstrated his abilities during our city's participation in our Tournament of Roses Float and LA Marathon events. And, his respected KBEV TV hosting is very well prepared. Max is quite a gracious individual - one of our city's younger gems. My decision to leave Frances' support group is not based on Max. We simply need leaders who genuinely care without extra drama. This is the craziest election in memory.Please vote for incumbent Goldberg. Write in the name of Margo. Do not vote for Licht as he chose not to run. Lewis Hall, please don't listen to your cadre of angry interfering backers. Thank you.
Lewis Hall October 21, 2011 at 01:28 AM
Russ, I have quite a few backers. To whom might you be referring?
Alan Mittelstaedt October 21, 2011 at 01:37 AM
Max deserves a medal for his professional handling of this matter. I was his journalism teacher in USC's high school program last summer. He's an exceptional talent with a rewarding career ahead of him.
Susie October 21, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Very sad this behavior is unbecoming . Since when is an 'appology' made via mail? Max has not been contacted ( as this is written) directly by mrs Bilak. In her note on this site, she claimed that she confirmed with the other candidates that they were available earlier ' . That implies that Max lied to her. At this point, I can not support someone who treats a person in this manner.
gina mandel October 21, 2011 at 02:21 AM
Ms. Bilak should hang her head in shame. Using her faith as an excuse to get what she wants. I guess we’ll never see her at any BHHS football games, GO TEAM. Perhaps as a School Board Member she will enforce us all to observe her personal beliefs (i.e., BV’s Movie Night … canceled, Horace Manns’s Halloween Hunt… canceled, just to mention this month’s calendar. I guess we are all not as devout as Ms. Bilak, oops!, wait a minute, wasn’t that her campaigning on Camden during the Shabbat of Sukkot? Well yes, I do believe it was. I think that my “write in” vote will be MAX SCHWARTZ for SCHOOL BOARD. He has been the only one here showing adult, professional, and responsible behavior.
gina mandel October 21, 2011 at 03:04 AM
Francis... proof read!
Marta Rosen Freud October 21, 2011 at 04:33 AM
Campaigning on Shabbat??!! This now is, officially..............Shabbatgate! The plot thickens! What next? And who else is involved? Stay tuned............
Brian Rosenstein October 21, 2011 at 04:52 AM
I have been out of town all day and just returned to see the thread of comments on the Patch story on my computer. While I was made aware of the situation today during the day, I had assumed by tonight that I would have seen, or that you would have made, a public apology for the comments made to Max. What I saw on Patch was basically an "I'm sorry you feel that way" message from you. That is not what I consider an apology and is not what Max and his family deserves or this community will find to be good enough. The timing issue you were concerned about was minor at best. A simple request for a change or accommodation would have sufficed and if it couldn't be accommodated then you could have either chosen to participate in the debate or not. Being that the Sabbath is very important to you as it is to many in our Community, I'm sure the Community would have understood. Max is a phenomenal young man and incredibly smart with a great heart. He is just flat out an awesome kid. Both Max and his mother Jennifer are wonderful people and are well loved and respected in our Community and by me. As I logged onto my computer tonight to read the Courier online, I noticed you had an ad in the paper and for the first time in addition to the elected officials that you have always used in the ads, you used my name. If you are not going to make a public and full throated apology to Max, then I am formally requesting that you not use my name in way, shape or form in the future. Thank you.
Stephanie Ladsous October 21, 2011 at 04:53 AM
I completely agree with Gina Mandel, Max Schwartz for School Board. Max is intelligent, driven and highly professional. He by no means deserves to be treated like a second class citizen because he is young. Ms. Bilak do the right thing and apologize first thing in the morning to Max Schwartz and his family.
frances bilak October 22, 2011 at 04:42 PM
To All Concerned I reached out to Max and his family over the last two days privately. I have spoken with Max and he has graciously accepted my apology. I have sent both he and his mother letters of apology, which I am not going to reprint, as it is not my choice but theirs if they choose to do so. I am deeply sorry for the pain I caused Max and his family. I have the highest respect for Max and have told him so, on a number of occasions both privately and publicly. My words intimidated him and for that I apologize. It was never my intention to do so. I made a mistake Max, and I am sorry.

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