Dear Salem-Keizer Community,
Over the last several years, division has been escalating in school board meetings, not only in ours, but across the country as well. This has resulted in our school board attempting multiple strategies to manage meeting behavior and public comment.
I have watched the school board attempt to have open and inclusive meetings, but these efforts have been met with a steady escalation of disruptive behavior by adults, which is not the model we want for our students. At one time the escalation required us to go back to virtual meetings. As we transitioned back to in-person meetings, the escalation intensified to threats and potential safety issues online and in our meetings. This is unacceptable and is occurring from adults all along the political and ideological spectrum. Ugly behavior by adults in a school board meeting, or outside of it, is simply not okay, especially when there are threats of harm to people in our community. We have student advisors to the board and other youth who participate in our meetings who should be afforded a safe and welcoming, positive meeting environment, as should parents, staff, board members, and all who attend our meetings.
The district’s Safety and Risk Management Services conducted a thorough investigation of the events from the last board meeting. The results of that investigation have made it clear that 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. 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.
For the immediate future, with the guidance of Safety and Risk Management Services and per administrative policy ADM-A012 “in order to prevent further harm against those persons impacted…,” the board meetings be conducted as follows:
- Board meetings will be closed to in-person attendance for the public, but will be open to the public through online access as listed on the agenda and district website.
- Public comment will be accepted in written form or by call-in or Zoom participation. Should behaviors escalate online, the board may restrict public comment to written form only for future meetings. Public comment sign up will open on Friday before the board meeting when the agenda is posted and will close at 3 p.m. the following Monday.
- No public will be allowed to congregate in the parking lot of our school buildings or on school grounds during board meetings.
I know as a community we want strong role models for our students – this means we must not tolerate unacceptable behavior from adults. Our students, including those youth serving as advisors and participating in our board meetings, deserve better from us and from the adults in our community.
As we navigate getting back to school, we have much work to do and are committed to doing that work. I’m hopeful our community will find common ground for the sake of our students.