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With Chair Linda Eskridge at the center of controversy, board will vote on her removal at next meeting

Warning: This story contains language of a sexual nature that some may find offensive

In the wake of an uproar over the school board adopting a proclamation coming from an apparent anti-LGBTQ group, a few board members and community members want to evaluate whether Board Chair Linda Eskridge is the best fit for the position.

At the Molalla River School District board's Nov. 14 meeting, after the board had passed the proclamation, teachers showed up en masse to ask the board to rescind it because of the group who sent it out, Parents Rights in Education. Several public commenters spoke out on behalf of LGBTQ students and staff members, and board members offered comments as well.

In her Nov. 14 comments, Eskridge said she has a problem with homosexuality "being pushed on our kindergarten kids," with teaching sexuality education to kids when they're too young, and teaching kids that "anal sex is as normal as holding hands." She also suggested some health curriculum she had looked at had a course on masturbation.

The following week, at the Nov. 21 work session, Eskridge made something of an apology at the beginning of the meeting, saying, "If I offended anyone with my comments, I sincerely, sincerely apologize." But she went on to defend the original proclamation and suggest that it shouldn't matter what group provided it.

"The words are good and true and where the words came from should not be of any relevance," Eskridge said to open the meeting. "After all, many of our founding fathers, who created this great country, were slave owners, but you still teach their words and history. These are the words and the intent behind the words that matter."

Then the board quickly voted to rescind the proclamation and adopt a new resolution that acknowledges the importance of parent involvement and shows support for all students without discrimination. The new resolution can be found online here.

But for many, it seems the action didn't fix the problem.

Toward the beginning of the meeting before public comments, board member Calvin Nunn made a motion to add a discussion about board leadership to the agenda.

"I was really very upset with the comments that Linda made at the last meeting, and I was very offended having to sit there and watch my kids' teachers try not to cry," Nunn told The Pioneer. "So, I was really unhappy with that and my feeling is that to show support for teachers, we needed to make some adjustments."

Board members Ralph Gierke and Jennifer Satter agreed a discussion was necessary.

But board members Craig Loughridge and Mark Lucht voted against adding the discussion to the agenda, with Loughridge calling it "divisive." Neal Lucht, via phone, also voted against it, along with of course, Eskridge.

The motion failed and the discussion was not added to the night's agenda.

Then during the public comment portion of the meeting, several spoke up to recommend the board remove Eskridge as chair.

"Regardless of your personal views, allowing MRSD to become a pawn in someone else's political fight should not stand unchallenged. You need to remove Ms. Eskridge from her position as board chair," said Hendy Appleton. "You need to censure her for political maneuvering and for her hateful speech. Her actions are in direct violation of your own board code of conduct, specifically the line that states that board members must be open, fair and honest and have no hidden agenda. They are also in direct contradiction with the district's first priority stated on their own website. And I quote, 'We pursue exceptional academic achievement for all students in positive, engaging, safe learning environments.'"

Two commenters, Sondra Anderson and Ron Higginbotham, also proposed specifically removing Eskridge as chair. Others called Eskridge out and suggested making improvements or engaging in board training.

So, toward the end of the night, Nunn made a new motion, this one more straight-forward: to remove Eskridge as chair. Gierke seconded the motion.

What ensued next was nothing less than a verbal battle among board members Nunn, Gierke and Loughridge. The three called each other out for mistakes they had made as board members, curse words were used, and voices were raised.

Eskridge piped in to say, "This is getting out of hand."

PMG FILE PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Pictured is the Molalla school board members, from left: Jennifer Satter, Calvin Nunn, Linda Eskridge, Neal Lucht, Ralph Gierke, Craig Loughridge and (not pictured) Mark Lucht.

Gierke then suggested delaying discussion and the vote on whether to remove Eskridge until the next meeting. Everyone agreed.

To cap the night, Neal Lucht, who had remained quiet during discussion, spoke up to redirect his fellow board members.

"The word I want you all to think about is respect and respect for one another," Neal Lucht said. "None of your opinions matter as individuals. I'm gonna be blunt: none of them. Not you, not me. Only our actions as a board make a statement to the community…I will not disrespect the opinions of Mr. Gierke, Mr. Nunn, Mr. Lucht, Ms. Satter. You're all individuals that have the freedom to speak your mind whether we agree with it or not. The key thing is how we think and work together rationally to come up with a vote that is the message of the board."

The board is expected to discuss and vote on removing Eskridge as chair at the next meeting, Dec. 12.

Kristen Wohlers
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