Frieda Christopher, a longtime member of the David Douglas School Board, thinks the recent censure motion proposed by one member against another is more symbolic than productive. Photo COURTESY DAVID DOUGLAS SCHOOL DISTRICT

Frieda Christopher, a longtime member of the David Douglas School Board, thinks the recent censure motion proposed by one member against another is more symbolic than productive.

Statements by David Douglas School Board member Bryce Anderson about crimes of an undocumented immigrant in California created a backlash among some parents. Photo COURTESY DAVID DOUGLAS SCHOOL DISTRICT

Statements by David Douglas School Board member Bryce Anderson about crimes of an undocumented immigrant in California created a backlash among some parents.

On June 8, the David Douglas School Board quietly voted on a censure motion against Bryce Anderson. The motion failed 5-2, with Andrea Valderrama and Christine Larsen voting in the minority for the censure.

Politically speaking, a censure is a symbolic reprisal with little practical sway. Notably, neither board member commented publicly on their vote at the time of the motion.

The censure was a product of the allegation that Anderson had made xenophobic statements about immigrants during a March meeting that featured a debate over the Inclusive District Resolution when he commented on the alleged murder in San Francisco in 2015 of an American by an illegal immigrant. Since March, a petition arguing for  having him removed from the board has attracted nearly 1,000 signatures and counting. David Douglas School District parent Heather Franklin started it.

Following the May 26 stabbing attacks on a MAX train in which two men were killed and another severely injured when they defended two teenagers from a verbal assault by another passenger, there was a second public outcry after David Douglas Superintendent Ken Richardson revealed that the two girls at the center of the attack were both David Douglas students. Protesters effectively shut down the David Douglas School Board meeting on June 1 with chants of “Bye, bye,” supposedly referring to both Anderson and Richardson. This led to the rescheduling of the censure vote for June 8.

With tensions rising, it appears the past few months may have only provided the logs for the fire. While many worry that the David Douglas School Board is out of touch with the broader community they serve, it is also becoming known that the seven members may be at odds with each other.

“Censuring Bryce wasn’t going to do anything,” explains Frieda J. Christopher, who has served on the David Douglas School Board for 26 years. “There’s not a lot a school board can do with another elected official. If you look up what censuring is, it’s like a slap on the hand. I looked up what is usually censured; this was inappropriate but not at that level.”

Christopher voted against the censure motion. However, she worries that protests will continue to disrupt public school board meetings. She also believes some of the protesters are not from the David Douglas area and are unrelated to her jurisdiction. “I look to see if it’s our total community asking for something or a minority being loud,” says Christopher. “I believe those who are not even from our community are driving some of the action.”

Franklin may be responsible for the crux of the fervor demonstrated during the protests. She notes that the State of Oregon Superintendent’s Office has clarified that Oregon schools are all-inclusive for children of all religions, racial backgrounds and immigration statuses. In addition, Franklin is especially worried about bullying; expressing that her son had been told that he would “be deported” following the 2016 presidential election.

Franklin believes the Inclusive District Resolution only reaffirmed this openness, and much like Bryce’s censure motion, that the resolution was mostly symbolic.

“Andrea (Valderrama) came forward with this draft resolution at the February meeting and that was met with complete pushback from the remaining six board members—with reactions ranging from ‘Oh, I don’t think we need this’ to downright hostility from Donn Gardner, Bryce Anderson and Cheryl,” says Franklin. “The fact that this received apathy and hostility from board members was jarring to the community because we thought it was a given.”

Indeed, the Inclusive District Resolution was tabled during the February meeting and brought to the floor in March where more than 100 people—kids, parents, school bus drivers and more—showed up to speak in its favor. According to Franklin, only one individual gave testimony that suggested an unfavorable view of the Inclusive District Resolution over hours of heartbreaking testimony.

For the past few months, shots have been fired in many directions, but mostly from Anderson and Franklin, according to Anderson.

Anderson believes Franklin has taken his perceived xenophobia out of context from the start. During the March meeting, he had mentioned an undocumented Mexican national in San Francisco who shot a young woman.

“Heather Franklin said my statements about the killing were likening immigrants to murderers,” says Anderson. “Sanchez wasn’t an immigrant; he was an illegal alien. He crossed our borders, disrespected our laws five times after being deported. He’s not qualified to be a resident. I’d love to debate her on the issue. I think she organized the effort of bringing people who are loud and obnoxious and not interested in the discussion.”

“Originally, Heather filed a complaint against me to the school board, which her husband did also,” says Anderson. “We heard those complaints in April and read them as an action item, and they were denied 6-1. The school board said no, that those were unfounded. Heather Franklin couldn’t take no for an answer.”

Franklin and Anderson have contradictory testimonies. Franklin claims the district wanted the Inclusive District Resolution, which did ultimately pass.

“David Douglas is a very good school district with rich traditions embedded in conservative philosophy. It’s set apart from Portland, and those of us who live here who raised our kids here want to keep it that way,” explains Anderson. “I didn’t think we needed the resolution. The other part of it is that when the other resolution came forward, it was presented as a sanctuary resolution. Portland school districts had adopted sanctuary policies, and I don’t think that’s something David Douglas residents really cared about or wanted.”

Anderson notes that Superintendent Ken Richardson had already released an inclusive resolution and he found that to be sufficient.

Adding to the tension, two new members will join the David Douglas School Board in July. These members include Ana del Rocío, the sister of Andrea Valderrama, and Stephanie Stephens, who will replace the retiring Donn Gardner. They are both recent victors from the May election.

If the censure vote were to take place a month from now, it’s unlikely that it would yield the same result from June 8.

“I think it’s more likely that it will be brought up again,” says Anderson, commenting on the fresh blood on the board. “I’m not sure exactly where Stephanie Stevens will come down on it; the other (new member) will be Andrea’s sister. I’m pretty sure she’ll support her sister. It’ll be interesting.”

Anderson, like Christopher, worries that protesters will continue to assault their meetings and delay votes. “It’s my observation that these people are professional protesters; they get their kicks out of doing this stuff,” says Anderson. “I hope that we can get beyond the circus atmosphere and get down to business. I would hope that all board members could respect board members making decisions. This doesn’t mean that we have to call in disrupters or censure somebody because we didn’t like what they said.”

Both Andrea Valderrama and Christine Larsen, who voted for Anderson’s censure, declined to comment for this piece.

On the bright side, Christopher remains more optimistic than Anderson does. She expects good things from del Rocío and Stephens.

“Truthfully, I know both women, and their goal is kids come first,” explains Christopher. “Will they state what they feel? Yes, which is good. They’re strong enough personalities where they’ll state what they feel and share their opinions. I think we can work together and have a cohesive board as we’ve had in the past. It isn’t the first time we’ve had members who didn’t really agree with one another, but as a board we’ve always come to decisions as a unit to do what’s best.”

As for the disruptive protests themselves, board members have a few options. They can opt to restrain the proceedings to another room where they can hold a video conference with the public rather than a face-to-face meeting, or they can call a recess until denizens settle down.

“It’s died down a bit,” says Anderson. “At the April meeting, there were 75 people, at the May meeting there were about 50, and at the June 1 meeting, there were 30. But because the censure was voted down, I think there will be a sizable crowd at the next one. You can’t shut down people’s ability to speak, but you also can’t yell ‘fire’ in the theater.”