Tumultuous couple weeks for SKPS board

The board for Salem-Keizer Public Schools has some major points to focus on, and none of them have to do with the newly started fall semester.

On Friday, Sept. 9, SKPS announced in a press release that board meetings will no longer be open to in-person attendance. 

The decision comes following an investigation into events at the previous board meeting that resulted in opposing sides clasing.

According to the release, the district’s Safety and Risk Management Services investigation concluded “adults from differing ideologies engaged in negative, aggressive, and unacceptable behavior, knowing it would result in conflict, and that the youth who were present did not initiate any conflict.”

In the release, Superintendent Christy Perry cited administrative policy “to prevent further harm against those persons impacted…”

The closing of the meetings to the public is not the only change to board meetings that was announced. How public comments are taken obviously has to change with no in-person attendance. They will be accepted either by write-in, call-in or zoom attendance. However, the board does warn that if negative behavior online escalates, public comment will be reduced to written only. 

The investigation found that “it is also clear that public comment has become a public forum for political agendas, rather than a way for the board to hear concerns, constructive criticism, ideas and information. It has continually escalated into threats and disrupted meetings.”

The public is also not allowed to gather on school grounds or parking lots during board meetings. 

This decision comes at a time of other questions and unrest with the board, as prospective petitions to recall three members have been filed with the Marion County Clerks Office on Aug. 25. 

The petitions seek to recall Osvaldo Avila from Zone 1, Ashley Carson-Cottingham from Zone 3 and Karina Guzman-Ortiz from Zone 5. 

Reasons given for the petition against Avila, the former chair of the board, states that he “labels parents whose values differ from his own with divisive rhetoric and slander to dismiss their concerns.” It claims Avila has given preferential treatment to some groups, and highlights his support of the removal of school resource officers and his vote to ban concealed carry on campus. 

Guzman-Ortiz’s petition claims that, instead of prioritizing academics, she focuses on “‘accepting and confirming BIPOC and marginalized student voices and increasing culturally responsive school leadership, teaching and curriculum.’” The petition claims that Guzman-Ortiz does not believe white people can experience racism. Her stance against SROs and voting to ban concealed carry are also mentioned as reasons on the petition.

Like Avila and Guzman-Ortiz, the petition against Carson-Cottingham also lists her vote on the concealed carry ban and support of the removal of SROs. It claims she does not prioritize student learning in her strategic goals and supports the graphic imagery found in the controversial book Gender Queer. Also, her support of school based health centers is called into question, which would allow students to seek medical treatment without parental consent or knowledge, even for things as serious as HIV. 

Each petition requires 16,283 signatures to be turned in by Nov. 23.