We at the Salem Keizer Coalition for Equality want our parents, families, supporters and community at large to know our deep disappointment and frustration towards what we witnessed at Wednesday’s School Board meeting to elect a Chair and Vice-Chair.
Through their actions, the Salem Keizer School Board has shown again their disconnect from the ongoing traumatization of communities of color. Wednesday’s election was proof that the community’s voice has no impact on this board. After weeks of turmoil, they ignored the statements of hundreds of community members, asking for a person who would uphold their values, who had the community’s trust, who could listen and be fair. Over 130 community members expressed that Sheronne Blasi should be Chair. Instead they blocked her from both Chair and Vice-Chair. They did significant damage to our relationships and ability to work together. However, we must give credit to Jesse Lippold. He heard the community, spoke up and turned down his own nomination. It was a brave move and appreciated by many of us.
Our Parent Leadership Group has worked long and hard to build relationships with each board member, hosting dinners, sharing our priorities for our children, trying to help board members understand our culture and the issues our children face in education. Board members have surely learned a few things, and expressed their desire to assure our children feel safe in school. But the sentiment is not enough. They must be willing to take actions that are not politically correct for their “Party.”
The children cannot feel safe because society has not changed. Immigration laws have not changed. Policies have not changed. White supremacism has not disappeared. Racism is on the rise, all over the world. Almost all of our leadership is white in the district. They see themselves on TV being abused. They hear about their abuse all day long. They hear, “you are not wanted” day in and day out.
The most important and positive thing this board could have done during the testimonies was to listen with open minds and hearts, suspend their personal judgements and egos and try to empathize. If they had done that, they would have concentrated on feeling pain for what is happening to people who don’t look like them. Instead, board members expressed coldness, annoyance and impatience.
Our School Board’s response to the upheaval in our society and our School District has been callous and defensive. Their silence proclaimed judgement on thousands of people of color—children, youth, parents, and community members—implying that we are not worthy of their time and consideration. That they had more important things to do.
True leaders would know (or learn) how to respond to personal and systemic accusations. Instead, they immediately dismissed and denied all complaints, called our reactions to police abuse “knee-jerking,” and tried to shut us down.
They answered demands with “knee jerk” absolutes. Instant personal proclamations. No forethought. No desire to be a collective body—a Board of Directors.
We urge the board to reconsider everything they have said and done. To see the humanity they thought themselves worthy to represent. Our children don’t need politicians with agendas. They don’t need the Union’s agenda. They don’t need the “conservative” agenda. They don’t need the “liberal white progressive” agenda. They don’t need ADULT AGENDAS at all.
With the unnecessary challenges that our students encounter, our children need school board members who are mature adults, who care most about a unified and effective agenda for positive change. Then our students and families can have faith that the adults who are administering their education can also keep them protected and thriving. With that support, students can focus on achieving their education, instead of being distracted by having to overcome a system of obstacles and prejudice.
Most of our board members have made it clear they have no intention of changing any of their core beliefs. They have no desire to gain a new understanding for race issues and systemic racism. They are steeped in a lifetime of white privilege they have no intention of acknowledging. We are shocked at the School Board’s stubbornness and arrogance. Their inability to listen or change, to embrace their weaknesses and question themselves even a little. They are outraged at the accusations hurled at them, about the “blackface” incident, the laughter, the offensive photos and jokes on social media. But they showed no outrage whatsoever for the murders of black men across the nation and no empathy for the stories of our students.
This has been the Salem Keizer School Board’s pattern for three years. It has to change.
We must have equal representation on our School Board and in our District Leadership.