Students speak out at school board meeting

Salem-Keizer Public Schools

Antagonism toward school officials regarding minorities was voiced by a succession of audience speakers at Tuesday’s work session of the Salem-Keizer School Board.

Most speakers were students, but a few were parents and recent graduates. Not all focused on minority issues; several of the earlier speakers commented on problems involving COVID-19 and the plans for returning mostly to the usual procedures with the opening of the next school year.

Anita Brannigan, the first speaker, urged board members to communicate more with the public. She is a member of a group that encourages people to speak up without being intimidated.

Several commented on masking. Abigail Eckhart told the board she has a developmentally delayed son who needs to see people’s faces to learn. Melissa Phillips, who has been homeschooling her three children, said parents should be encouraged to make mask decisions, because there is no one-size-fits-all answer. She added that children in Sweden have stayed healthy without being masked.

Heather Stevenson said she had eight-year-old twins who will have to repeat the second grade. She said one has epilepsy and the other is deaf in one ear.

Lee Morales urged that the school district show its curriculum on its website to enable parents to comment on it.

Then a long succession of speakers, mostly students, alleged that some school directors and administrators did not care about minority students. Board Chair Osvaldo Avila urged that speakers show their concerns but be respectful.

Several were unimpressed by his call for respect. One who identified herself only as Cindy said, “Some of you act like the chairs you sit on are thrones.”

After all speakers from the floor were finished, Avila said, “Thank you. We’ll take this up at our next board meeting.”

Other board members were equally receptive. Maria Hinojos Pressey said the board should regularly allow lead time for people to speak from the audience. Marty Heyen, the only director attending remotely, said whatever mask policy is enacted, “50% will be mad.”

Iton Udosenata, the assistant superintendent, then outlined administrative goals for reopening schools:

• Five-day week.

• Emphasis on academics and social/emotional needs.

• Ongoing parent engagement and communication.

• Safety considerations.

• Close cooperation with the Oregon School Activities Association.