A Scappoose School Board meeting was anything but routine Dec. 14 when an elementary school principal leveled a complaint against a sitting School Board member.
Board Chair Michelle Graham read a letter to fellow board members from Otto Petersen Elementary School Principal Jenneca Crocker, which was directed against board member Lisa Maloney.
At issue before the board was whether the complaint merited an investigation into Maloney's past comments at board meetings.
"As a public School Board member, Lisa Maloney has been allowed to speak against and down to students, families, and staff members that are served by the Scappoose School District. Her racist, accusatory, and hateful comments are offensive, devaluing, belittling and insulting to the very students and families who attend and make up the Scappoose School District community," Crocker wrote.
Maloney rejected the accusations.
"No one on this board should be afraid to express an honest opinion about the subject matter being discussed. We must respect each other's opinions," she said at the Dec. 14 meeting. "I will always advocate for what I believe is best for our students, their families and our schools."
In the letter, Crocker wrote that Maloney has repeatedly "devalued, insulted and dismissed" students and families. She referred to Maloney's vocal opposition to teaching elementary and middle school students about sexual orientation or gender identity, her criticism of suicide prevention education, and comments she made at a meeting earlier in the fall in which she described low-income housing complexes as "projects."
Crocker also said Maloney had referred to school staff as "unbiblical" and claimed they were "planting suicidal thoughts in the minds of our young students" after a September 2020 work session.
Maloney said she "categorically" denies Crocker's allegations.
"I never spoke about people in the terms that I was accused of," Maloney said.
Maloney's fellow board members reacted to the letter.
"One thing about Lisa is she's always, by far, the most prepared for all of our board meetings — pretty much every time, she has something to say," said Tim Brooks, a frequent ally of Maloney on the School Board. "On controversial issues that come up, I obviously tend to agree with her, as do many of our citizens we represent. I find it very disturbing that a school principal would be triggered by the board engaging in discussion on issues that come before us."
Brooks continued, "I'll guarantee you in every single one of these discussions we have, Lisa does her homework. I've never heard her be racist or the things that she accused her of. No way. I think the complaint appears to be written by an activist with the intention to bully and intimidate not only one person, but every one of us that doesn't agree with her views. That's just not acceptable."
Phil Lager suggested Crocker "was speaking on behalf of others, the people that don't come here," noting that the average attendance at school board meetings is low.
"Often times, I, and this is my opinion, feel Lisa is dismissive of different types of groups … just her tone, and the way she addresses certain things," Lager said. "When she has convictions on certain things, she states it, but I also know it doesn't land well a lot of times."
While Lager said he doesn't think an investigation "is going to bring up anything else than what people already know or feel," he believes Crocker's complaints are "100 percent relevant."
He added, "I want our students, our staff, our community, our visitors to feel safe, to feel wanted."
Jim Hoag took a conciliatory tack.
"There is a freedom of speech, and stepping outside of pretty well established boundaries can get you in trouble whether you're an elected official, or not," Hoag said. "I would hope that board members choose their words carefully, and I'm sure some of the words that get issued by all of us come out differently than we would like them to, once our brain caught up with our mouth."
Short of a formal investigation, the board discussed the possibility of giving Maloney and Crocker time to air their differences at a future meeting.
This did not sit well with Maloney.
"First of all, I would say this involves my freedom of speech," Maloney said. "You cannot make a motion to force people into a discussion in an open forum. I do not need to defend myself."
Crocker's letter argued that if Maloney is "allowed to speak against any party without any accountability, or limitations or contest from the board," that goes against the values the Scappoose School District claims to hold.
Maloney pushed back.
"As board members, we often have difficult and controversial issues that come before us," Maloney said. "It is our job to glean as much information as we can about the subject matter and make that part of the deliberations, as each of us sees fit. We all must be free to open debate and offer opinions about subject matters that come before us so that we can all be fully informed and make the best decision based on our values."
While the board concluded there was no need for an investigation following Crocker's complaint, Maloney suggested to the Spotlight afterward that she had been set up.
"It was clear from the onset other board members had colluded before the meeting and were trying to set up a future public meeting as to allow more people to make false and defamatory allegations," Maloney said in an email.
Graham rejected that claim.
"There was absolutely no collusion," Graham told the Spotlight. "We heard this complaint in a public meeting … to ensure complete transparency."
Crocker said she thinks it was high time the School Board discussed Maloney's conduct.
"I think that the discussion that followed the reading of the complaint was one that has needed to take place for quite some time," Crocker said. "I valued the opinions, and I would have loved the opportunity to speak at a following meeting."
Crocker continued, "Education isn't what it was five years ago, 10 years ago — it is vastly different from when I was coming through the public school system. And the realization that with these changes, our mindsets and our comments need to be inclusive of the people that we serve. To use certain groups or certain races or social classes as, for lack of a better word, the villain of a scenario that's being presented at a public School Board meeting is highly inappropriate, because that is referring to the very people that we serve."
Superintendent Tim Porter declined to comment when reached by the Spotlight, other than to note the board determined there was no need for an investigation.
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