The David Douglas school board may be returning to simpler times—times of monthly school board meetings that are even a touch boring. It’s not a done deal, but Bryce Anderson’s protesters may be losing their mojo as the July 13 meeting—unlike the meeting on June 1—failed to be effectively shut down. Aggressive protesters were absent, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a crowd. A healthy mix of parents, teachers and students, as well as some wild cards like Mary Nolan, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, were in attendance.
The draw of the July meeting, or at least its introduction, was the swearing in of two new board members, fresh off their victories from the May election. The new blood includes Ana del Rocío, who beat out incumbent Cheryl Scarcelli Ancheta to join her sister Andrea Valderrama, and Stephanie Stephens, who defeated Joshua Gray.
The inauguration itself went smoothly. Following its completion, public testimony shifted the tone, binding the board’s new cast to wavering concerns from its denizens.
A couple of student activists representing Pueblo Unido PDX, a grassroots organization designated toward the local Hispanic population, spoke in favor of reinstating the June censure motion against Bryce Anderson. Anderson, along with the board, has been fraught with drama since making comments seen as xenophobic during a debate over the board’s Inclusive District Resolution during the March 9 meeting. The Inclusive District Resolution has since been adopted.
Last month, the prospective censure motion failed with a mere two members in favor when it was quietly voted on during a supplemental meeting on June 8. Not everybody is happy about it.
“I hope that you recognize that you represent everybody,” exclaimed student activist Jana Moss, a member of Pueblo Unido PDX. “You don’t just represent conservative families, white families or members of the church. In the last few months, our concerns have been dismissed, with you saying censorship is too harsh.”
These thoughts were echoed through additional speakers, one of whom was an ESL teacher within the district. Another local man named Robert, who saw five kids (three of whom were adopted) through district schools, refused to offer his last name. He stated optimistically that, “I hope through incidents that come up of bigotry, we can work together.”
Notably, in a moment of perceived tension between onlookers and the board, there was a motion to consider “the audience” as “attendees.”
All-in-all, there were half a dozen speakers speaking out against Anderson’s prior remarks, either directly or indirectly. Other issues arose that hinted at heightened sensitivity across the fresh disposition of the board.
One commenter hinted that David Douglas schools display an overwhelmingly white group of educators in a district with a student population that is more ethnically diverse. This allegation was a consistent theme throughout the nearly three-hour meeting, possibly in some part since the board now has double the members who identify as people of color (POC).
In response, Ana del Rocío noted to Super-intendent Ken Richardson that she would like to see a presentation on the current racial disposition of district staff. In response, Richardson kept a can-do attitude, claiming there is a staff report each year on the matter. For now, it looks like this presentation’s likelihood is plausible.
“I think it would make sense for us to start that dialogue,” claimed del Rocío, noting that the Oregon legislature recently passed HB-2845, ensuring the inclusion of ethnic studies in all public schools. Textbook standards are set to be formally adopted by 2020.
Andrea Valderrama proposed a workshop on the recruitment and retention of teachers who identify as POC. Other issues that saw a vote at the meeting also reflected the board’s changing tide, hinting at an uptick in liberal morale.
Highlights of the meeting included a broader discussion over a vote on an updated health education curriculum for the coming 2017–18 school year, which sparked notable interjections from new members. Brooke O’Neill, director of curriculum for the David Douglas School District, offered a presentation on The Great Body Shop, a health education organization offering texts seeking approval from the board for immediate implementation.
“How trans-inclusive is the information?” asked del Rocío. “If they’ve [The Great Body Shop] been so responsive in the past, can we implement standards that are tweaked before August?”
O’Neill argued in favor of the text, claiming that The Great Body Shop has been very flexible with its information based on the school board’s needs in the past. However, she also noted that new guidelines for teaching updated gender education (including transgender health among youth) would not be outlined until January 2018 by the state. The board voted on The Great Body Shop, and the texts were adopted for fall 2017.
The board then voted on an action item on comprehensive birth control throughout the district, which included reports from three speakers working for Multnomah County. The three women brought reports that described alarming rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies within the district.
Suddenly, it made sense why Nolan from Planned Parenthood was present; sex education was front and center, as well as the topic of consent. The board spoke of Senate Bill 856, which was passed in 2015 to create a child sexual abuse prevention instructional program in public schools.
During this emotionally rife period of the meeting, after many onlookers had departed, Stephanie Stephens spoke out and admitted that her own first sexual experience was not consensual.
The first David Douglas school board meeting to include del Rocío and Stephens appeared to be a success with those in attendance if, by measuring success, one compares the amount of displayed public outrage between the June 1 meeting and the July 13 meeting.
Though it is difficult to gauge if attendee intervention—or supposed disruption—was truly impacted by the inauguration of both women, the two novice board members seem willing to speak their mind, argue for minority rights and calmly negotiate among their fellows.
Then again, there are more meetings to come.