School board chair cracks down on public comments
After the community brought hours of public comments to the October school board meeting over an image presented during an art lesson, Chair Angi Dilkes at the most recent meeting announced that, going forward, she would crack down on the content of those comments even to the point of declining to read comments that violate the district's civility standard.
"During the last meeting, there were a lot of comments that we received that in hindsight did not meet our standard for civility," Dilkes said Nov. 5. "I want to apologize to my fellow board members for not seeing them all through that lens. It was very crazy, but in hindsight, I regret not being more mindful about that because we have a standard for a reason, and I didn't hold us to that."
The standard Dilkes referred to is a statement that is read aloud before the public comment period at meetings. It goes like this:
"Due to the online meeting format, we request that public comments be submitted via email to the board secretary by 4 p.m. the day of the meeting. Statements should be brief and should not reflect adversely on the background, character or motives of any individual. Please limit your remarks to three minutes."
While no comments at the previous meeting mentioned board members by name, it was clear some of them were directed toward Dawn Depner and perhaps other board members who had expressed concern about excessive political content from teachers in Canby schools.
On the other hand, some comments could have been interpreted as derogatory toward the teacher who originally had presented the art lesson and teachers in general.
Dilkes appeared to be referencing the comments made toward board members, suggesting that the public take concerns directly to individual board members.
"When you have concerns about things any of us board members are doing, contact us directly," Dilkes said. "I think that is the appropriate way to express concerns about someone individually."
Dilkes even declined to read some comments that were submitted for the Nov. 5 meeting, saying they did not meet the standard. She asked that those who wrote them revise them for the next meeting.
At the end of the night, Dilkes acknowledged that she could adjust her handling of the public comments if necessary.
"Please do let me know if you hear from people or have concerns about the way I'm handling the public comment piece," she said to fellow board members. "I don't know that I got it right, but I am committed to making sure that we follow our own rules."
Two public comments made the cut for the evening though.
Emanuel Hemsi, a dual language immersion science teacher at Baker Prairie Middle School, offered his response to public and board member comments about the art lesson at the previous meeting.
He suggested that if families and board members were uncomfortable with the image, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Fighting against racism and inequity and fighting to hear the voices of all our families and students is not always comfortable," Hemsi said. "It challenges a historically biased system and often long-held beliefs."
He challenged the board to consider what steps to take to foster equity in Canby schools, especially for the Hispanic community.
Kathleen Jeskey also commented to ask board members to please keep their cameras turned on at virtual meetings.
"It's really difficult to tell who's actually present at the meetings and who's not when cameras are off and particularly since even the person's name, profile photos and everything disappear from the screen when the camera is off," Jeskey said. "I think it's really important for the public to know which of our board members are in attendance at board meetings and which are not."
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