Packed agendas are likely for school board this month

The Salem-Keizer School Board will meet next on Tuesday, Jan. 12 (Screenshot).

The process of attempting to reopen schools is expected to be a hot topic of discussion during Salem-Keizer School Board meetings this month. The board is scheduled to meet three times in January, with the next discussion taking place on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m.

On Dec. 23, Gov. Kate Brown announced that she was directing the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to implement new policy initiatives, with the goal of putting more school districts on track to return students to in-person instruction, especially elementary students, by February 15.

As of Friday, Jan. 1, decisions on if and when schools can reopen fell to the discretion of local school districts as state metrics made the shift from mandatory to advisory. 

“This does not mean schools can resume in-person instruction without regard for COVID-19 spread in the community, but instead should carefully consider the metrics in their local context, the needs of students and families, and readiness to implement health and safety protocols,” Brown said. 

Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) Superintendent Christy Perry says that she will have an announcement regarding district plans in January. However, the decision to reopen SKPS schools will likely require approval from the school board, as well as an agreement from the two unions that represent the majority of employees in the district.

It’s anticipated that another main topic of discussion this month for the board will be about the new policy passed that gives board chair Satya Chandragiri additional authority to manage public comments during meetings. The new policy, which passed 4-3, allows the board chair to cut off comments deemed “obscene, derogatory, name-calling, racist, threatening” or that criticize district employees by name.

In response to the new policy, state representative Paul Evans (D-Monmouth) penned a letter directed towards Chandragiri, calling the leaders of the school board “an embarrassment.”

“I write this letter out of necessity: community leaders must hold each other accountable when there is a problem and sir — I respectfully tell you that the way you and your allies conduct business is antithetical to your public charge. Your attitude toward the most vulnerable among us, the language to all who disagree, and your persistent claims of victimhood are an embarrassment to our state and community,” the letter read. 

Evans also wrote in the letter his plans to draft, and seek to advance for passage, legislation that would expand the board by seven members who would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. Currently, school board members are elected locally and serve unpaid, four-year terms.

Salem-Keizer School Board meetings can be viewed live on Capital Community (channel 22) or on YouTube.