SKPS board runs 4.5-hour marathon meeting

The Salem-Keizer School Board meeting took place on Tuesday, Sept. 22

While the Salem-Keizer School Board addressed many items in their four-and-a-half hour meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 22 — such as the numerous technology issues with comprehensive distance learning (CDL) and Superintendent Christy Perry being named Oregon Superintendent of the Year — they couldn’t escape the flood of criticism that once again took place during public testimony.

Over the last few months, the board has been under fire as members of the community have accused multiple board members of racism and have been displeased with their response to calls to remove Student Resource Officers (SROs) from schools.

Nearly every person that called in to the meeting asked for the removal of SROs from schools as well as the resignations of Marty Heyen and Paul Kyllo. Heyen has been accused of being a part of white supremacist groups and Kyllo has been heavily criticized for holding up a cardboard mask of Cliff Robinson, a former Portland Trail Blazers player, during a March 30 meeting.

“We have asked numerous times for the resignations of Marty Heyen and Paul Kyllo. They have not resigned and we want to know why. Your silence to this question has demonstrated that not only have you ignored us, you have a lack of empathy and a lack of respect to our community,” said one commenter.

Another commenter added that he believes that SROs contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

“We must think differently about the way we discipline our students… We must use a new approach to keep our students safe, our classrooms orderly and all of our students succeeding in school.”

A few people also were asking for the resignation of Kathy Goss as well, and many others cited how Portland Public Schools, the largest district in the state, announced in June that they would no longer have SROs patrol the hallways.

Before public testimony, board chairperson Satya Chandragiri asked for civility and respect from callers. While most abided, there were a few callers that dismissed Chandragiri’s plea — one commenter called Heyen a “raggedy white supremacist.” The caller was cut off before he could finish his insult of Kyllo. 

Chandragiri cut off a number of callers, some of whom were students, for either not sticking to the agenda or for not keeping the conversation civil, which led to even more criticism of callers and a public scolding from fellow board member Sheronne Blasi.

“I am very saddened and disappointed by the way our students have been treated this evening when they called in. I don’t know if I have ever seen students cut off during their conversations during their time,” Blasi said. “To have our students of color’s voices silenced tonight, that is why they are calling, because that has been what is happening. Our students of color and our families of color feel as though this board is not listening. We have to do better.”

Winning the Superintendent award didn’t make Perry immune to criticism either.

“I don’t understand why this is happening. Why is she getting praised for saying only words of anti-racism but not actually doing anything,” one caller said.

Later in the meeting, the board officially adopted a resolution regarding safe and welcoming schools — this resolution was first initiated as part of policy in January 2017, with the action to include annual affirmation of the resolution.

“This resolution is perhaps the most important resolution. There is no equity without safety,” Chandragiri said. “When safety gets compromised, people get polarized.”

The board also approved the time from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrating the contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Assistant superintendent Kraig Sproles addressed the board and went over many of the issues that have gone on during the first week of online learning.

The district originally intended on beginning their CDL program on Tuesday, Sept. 15. But due to Salem-Keizer area being engulfed with smoke because of the wildfires in east Marion County, the first day of school for the vast majority of students didn’t come until Thursday, Sept. 17.

Sproles admitted that the district experienced a bumpy first few days of distance learning. Hardware issues, power and network outages, district phone systems being overloaded, Chromebook start-up issues and Zoom problems were just a handful of the issues the district experienced while trying to facilitate online learning.

“A lot of these issues are not unique to Salem-Keizer. They are issues that are being experienced across several districts,” Sproles said.

Sproles told the board that some of the issues with Chromebooks and Zoom have been resolved and that they are currently in the process of securing more phone lines, which should be finalized next week.