Guest Column: Meeting about schools was an eye-opener

Public Square

I am a parent of a current student in the Salem Keizer School District. I have lived in the Salem area for the past seven years. I grew up in New York City and Chicago. 

This week I attended a meeting being held and promoted by two local organizations: SK We Stand Together, and Oregon Moms Union. As I did not grow up in the area nor attend the local schools here, I appreciated the Oregon Moms Union’s advertisement and blurb of who they are and what they do (they presented inclusivity, a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. and photos including diversity). I showed up and quickly found myself surrounded by about 30 people without masks on, in a closed room above a bowling alley in Keizer. 

Current school board member Dr. Satya Chandragiri was present, maskless. There were current Salem-Keizer school principals and teachers, maskless. I quickly learned that this was a very far-right group. Though it was advertised as non-partisan, quick reference was made to Democrats and Republicans. Dr. Chandragiri was a key speaker, who provided his card and personal assistance to all. Dr Chandragiri shared that it’s important to find ways to skirt around the current laws. I found this meeting was absolutely partisan in nature. Another current school board member Marty Heyen was in attendance, unmasked.

Chandragiri gave his entire speech unmasked—which included making comparisons to the abuses the Native communities have faced regarding the abusive Native boarding schools—to the fact we are not allowing God in our schools today. He also clearly stated that the intergenerational trauma that the Native Americans have lived through, is exactly the same as these Christian families’ children having a checkbox on a test that gives the option of transgender or non-binary. 

Dr. Chandragiri was stoking these folk’s fears at worst, knowing full well exactly what he was doing. I was horrified. One parent shared that their son feels like he is being forced to be transgender while in a classroom with a pride flag on the wall. The parent then explained that his son “returned to normal” as soon as he left the classroom. 

I would like Satya Chandragiri investigated for his ties to these far-right groups. He was doing harm to our community and continues to by allying with very harmful and fearful rhetoric. I believe he needs to resign, or we need him out of a position of power. 

I also did not expect to have literature handed out by these folks from The Heritage Foundation. Can a resolution be made that standing board members and anyone having to do with our schools not use the offensive information provided by The Heritage Foundation, for starters? And they called sex education “Marxism.” 

Is this actually happening? Why are these folks in positions of power? If folks like these continue to be in positions of power in Salem/Keizer, the children are going suffer. I am of the mindset that religion and school should be separate. I am also of the mindset that exposing a child to folks who live different lifestyles than they do can only be a good, positive thing. To think these are the folks in charge of things, the teachers, principals, school board chair members, it makes me very worried.

(Andrea Smith lives in Salem.)

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