FREMONT — This week's decision by three school board members to table a vote recognizing Harvey Milk Day — in part because children were in the audience — has drawn the anger of gay rights advocates who criticized the action as "deplorable."

Since Wednesday's meeting, trustees said they've been flooded with e-mails from people who support or condemn their action.

In October, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill designating May 22 as Harvey Milk Day, in honor of California's first openly gay elected official.

Because it is law already, a resolution passed by the Fremont school board to recognize Harvey Milk Day simply would have been symbolic. Nevertheless, board President Lara York, who requested the resolution, felt it was important.

"If we pass the resolution, it sends a clear message that we stand behind our mission to educate all children, help all children to succeed and that we encourage a safe environment for everybody," she said Thursday.

But board member Larry Sweeney on Wednesday asked to table the resolution, a proposal that trustees Lily Mei and Ivy Wu supported. All three elected officials said there were too many items on the agenda and did not want to add another lengthy discussion to the evening — especially one, they said, that could have stirred up controversy.

Furthermore, Sweeney told this newspaper, because there were many children at the meeting who had come to participate in a rally against budget cuts or to honor the district's teachers of the year, he did not feel comfortable taking action on a resolution that may have ended in a split vote.

"That discussion could be very contentious. I did not want that to take away from the teachers" being recognized, he said during the meeting.

But York did not think it would have been inappropriate to discuss the resolution with students' presence.

"I wasn't planning on saying anything that I would be ashamed of saying in front of kids. I have no idea what other people may have said that they couldn't say in front of children," she said Thursday.

Wu said the issue could stir up emotions.

"When you bring up the name Harvey Milk, he stands for gay rights. "... For some people, it's a very sensitive issue," she said Friday.

"That discussion (would have) generated a lot of animosity. "... We're not here to please people. We have to stand for what we think is best for students," she said.

When told about their explanations, Carl Bullard, a gay teacher in Fremont, said Friday that he was irritated that the only two nonwhite board members — Wu and Mei are Asians — found the idea of honoring Milk controversial.

"It really annoys me that women of color can sit on the board and say that it's too controversial "... (that) a group of people who have been marginalized in this country would miss the point," he said.

Mei said she respected each person's right to choose but did not support honoring an individual when the district already dedicated two weeks each year to teaching tolerance — during an anti-bullying week and "No Name Calling Week."

"We dedicate two full weeks to this topic, not just one day. And what we encourage is the acceptance of all people," she said.

Additionally, she said, "I'm not willing to call a separate day for an individual when there are so many other people" who have contributed to the country.

Sweeney also suggested this week that rather than passing a resolution honoring one person, the board approve a resolution recognizing California's various pioneers, such as the state's first black, Hispanic or Asian legislators or the first elected female official.

The board next will discuss the resolution May 26 — four days after the anniversary of Milk's birthday and the official day designated by the state for observance.

Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010. Follow her at Twitter.com/Linh_Tat.