A split Nevada Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees demonstrated why boards need an uneven number of voting members. A split 2-2 board meant that after courageous and emotional testimonies by students and parents recounting incidents of racism, bullying and harassment, a motion to adopt changes to existing policies that would have give teachers and staff more tools to deal with these incidents failed.
Prior to the policy item, an update on Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity on NJUHSD Campuses: Perspective From Students and Parents was on the agenda. “The Board of Trustees will receive a presentation from district students and parents on the status of district efforts to develop school site cultures that support diversity, inclusivity, and equity among all students and staff. These students and parents will highlight their experiences with racism and harassment on district school sites. Subsequent discussion among Board members, presenters, and stakeholders will focus on where the district is now, where it is going, and what further steps the district may need to implement to further support the values of diversity, inclusivity, and equity on its school campuses,” according to the agenda.
Parents speak out
“As a parent, this breaks my heart because I know that they have seen the ugly and dark face of hate in our community and I would like to stop the narrative of people questioning whether it exists. It does. Just because it hasn’t happened to you or anyone you know doesn’t discount these people live experiences. When people tell you their story, it’s important to listen and learn.”
Another parent said, “I repeat, my son is a normal kid. A study published in 2021 in the American Medical Association Journal of Pediatrics surveyed over 41,000, almost 12% identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. That’s over one in 10 US kids and all of these kids need to be treated equally and with love and respect. But I’m standing here before you today because I want to make it absolutely clear to the board and to the community that is not what’s happening at Nevada Union. Fear is part of his daily life and the lives of other gay kids at Nevada Union High School.”
“This district needs to do more to support these kids. They need to do more to improve equity and inclusion and more to battle racism and bias in our schools. Diversity opens our eyes in our minds, other cultures, other places, other languages, other viewpoints, other ways of being in the world, critical thinkers and more compassionate communities.”
“It is time to stop giving your attention to those who would silence or disregard what these young people and their families are saying to you here tonight. Futures are at stake and you must take action. Our son is deeply loved by his family. He is strongly supported by our friends, many of whom are here tonight and will not be silent. If you are not loudly, visibly and actively behind these young people, you are against them. I pray for change. You know better.”
Students speak out
“During my time at Nevada Union, I’ve experienced racial discrimination. I’m hear to speak on how issues like this affected me and still do, but also to provide hope for people like me from mixed backgrounds. In my time at NU, I’ve experienced kids calling me names and I hear a student say ‘let’s lynch Tom.’ These are a few of many other issues that I’ve had and they’ve all contributed to my deteriorating mental health. I think the student body has been empowered, partially by fault of the board to say and do whatever they want. When I hear students saying slurs, profanities towards peers and acting with the feeling of immortality and that nothing can stop them, I can’t help but think that the higher ups like the board are partially to blame. When people in powerful positions go against agreements with teachers, suffer no consequence and just get what they want, what is to stop students from thinking the same way about other things like these racial issues? The board can no longer ignore these issues regarding race and must set the precedent that nothing of this nature is tolerated. The board needs to do a better job of representing what the most amount of people want, not allowed more minority. I will continue to do anything I can to help create change within our district and communities by working with administration and calling out hate when I see it.”
“I am an openly queer and trans student at NU high school. I would like to discuss the disappointment I have before and also the administration at this high school. I have experienced on multiple occasions slurs being thrown around at me and friends, a variety of slurs, food thrown at me, threats, etcetera. However particularly on January 13, 2022 there was a quite big incident where I was just for using the bathroom. I was asked questions around my genitalia and called a variety of slurs. I obviously reported this and I reported it to Vice Principal Luke Browning. He said he would get back to me and my family in 30 days. We never got a response. So in response, we filed the Title IX claim. Eventually I got the school to reply. I had a meeting with Kelly Rhoden and Dan Frisella. Throughout that meeting, they claimed that the students were punished. However, how are we to know that? They said that they were put into an afterschool program or a program in which they were taught inclusivity, however in the same breath admitted that one of these students is the repeat offender of offensive behavior. Going to prove that is that specific program helpful? Not only that, but when we were pressing further on wanting to go through Title IX complaint the whole time it was just on trying to deescalate the situation. However, it was a valid complaint and we actually successfully appealed. I think that the school needs to step up and I hope very much that the board steps up as well to protect students of all races, genders and sexualities. What is happening is ridiculous and I really am scared to go to school every day and I know I’m not the only one. And thank you to the students and the parents who did step up, you are very appreciated.”
None of these quotes accurately convey the emotions of students and parents while speaking. The video of the meeting is available here.
The four elected board members made their comments afterwards. Trustees James Hinman and DuWaine Ganskie spoke first.
“This has been going on for a long, long time. I’ve been here over 30 years in Silver Springs. We saw it and we had a small staff. We’ve been working on it ever since then. It takes everybody. You also have to change the mind of a greater community out there. You have a community that’s so divided now. I don’t have answers, but I certainly know I’m willing to work with any of these guys. My heart goes out. Nobody gets treated like that, nobody should get treated like that, so we’ll keep working.”
“Thank you to everybody who spoke, it was very heartfelt and I fell all we can do up here is say words that aren’t going to mean a whole lot to you. I appreciate the gentleman saying that people know what to do. The administrators, they feel empowered to do what’s right. But a policy does help. It does give them backing, it does send a message that we are in 100% support of doing right by our students, making sure they feel safe, making sure they are treated right, making sure they are treated fairly.”
Ganskie said that after the board discussion he definitely hoped the board would do the right thing and pass a policy that gives backing and backbone to their administrators and teachers to do the right thing.
Vice President Jim Drew spoke next. “Thank you for coming forward this evening, and we appreciate hearing from you. Some of you kind of criticize the Board. I’ve got a pretty thick skin, but we’ve been working on this issue in our LCAP. Some things are already stated. There’s a ton of policy already that protects you. There is Ed code right now that protects you and that it looks like somehow the people that are offending you need to be held accountable. It’s not that we don’t have a way to do that. We just need to know who’s doing this. I know we’ve got our administrative staff here from NU, we’ll work with them to come up with some solutions. Society was kind of mentioned earlier. This is nothing new. Is it rampant? You say it’s rampant at NU. It could be. I don’t know. Okay. Thank you. We heard you.”
At that point, students in the audience shouted that yes, it was rampant. Board President Pat Seeley gaveled them down, telling them to stop and that it was the board’s time to speak. “Stop or you will be ejected from the room, you have a choice. Sorry, this is our turn to talk.” Drew added, “We’re gonna go to the respect thing.”
Superintendent McFadden asked the students to let the board conduct their deliberations, “Students, please, if you could. This is the board to conduct this work. Administration is committed to also continue to work with you, communicating with you. But please allow the board to conduct its discussion at this point in the agenda.”
Drew continued, “Yeah the one thing I don’t like are these outburst. Here we go. Bring it on.” There was no audible interruption on the live stream or the archive video. “If you want our support, we will respect you and we will work with you in that. But it’s got to be a two way street. Let’s work on that. And I would implore the administration at all our campuses to work with all of you. If you’ve got a situation going on, please share it with somebody that can make a difference for you and others. I could go into a lot of things about racism and gender, and I could talk about my family and that. My nephews, my nieces, and that. I could talk about the students I had for 36 years in my classroom. And did I witness things in those 36 years? You bet I did. What happened when I saw something like that, I handled it. And if it didn’t get corrected, it would go to the administration and there would be consequences for those students that created the problem. And I’m glad to hear that wee were going to try to do some training with the teachers and the staff. I’ve heard about our campus supervisors at NU, what a great job they’re doing with all the kids. And that’s what we need. We need that family attitude back at all of our campuses. I know Marty at Silver Springs, he talked about family and that. I’ll say a few more things when this policy comes up a little bit later.”
After a short break, the board reconvened the meeting and addressed the proposed policy update pertaining to Nondiscrimination/Harassments designated as Policy 5145.3, after director Drew pulled the item from the consent agenda. This item was pulled from the agenda in March and was coming back to the board for a vote. The policy additions included, “Respect for All is the philosophy by which the Nevada Joint Union High School District shall respond to instances of bullying and harassment. The district is committed to keeping schools safe, supportive, and free from discrimination.” Another addition dealt with microaggressions: “Microaggression is a term used for commonplace, daily, verbal, behavioral or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups. Microaggressions include, but are not limited to: inappropriate jokes, inappropriate and derogatory gestures, malicious comments, singling‐out students, setting exams and project due dates on religious holidays, and stereotyping. Microaggressions that are racist, ageist, transphobic, xenophobic etc. will be reported and reviewed by the same procedures as stated in the Complaint Procedures section.”
Some public comment encouraged the board to adopt the policy as revised, with a parent saying “if you took anything away from the student presentations tonight, I want you to know that the section regarding microaggression has value and should not be struck from the policy. This type of covert discrimination needs to be addressed and confronted and recognized for the impact that it has on our school community.”
Trustee Drew had a comment as the vote was called. “I’m opposed to the amendments to this resolution for this policy. I think it’s over the top. Like I said earlier, if people violate whether it’s a teacher, staff member, student, they need to be held accountable. And that can be done with this existing policy. It can be done with EDCO. And that there are things in here portion of it that the parents are going to have to be involved in this. If your child is making amends or repairing the situation, which I guess is good, but it’s up to the parent to have the child write a letter of apologizing to do a good deed for the first news, bullying or for others in your community, that’s all in fine. But as we’ve talked about earlier, part of this, a lot of this may be coming from home. So do you think those parents are going to have their child do this? I kind of don’t think society has got to be corrected and how this is going down, but I don’t think that portion of the policy amendment is a good thing. So I am opposed to these amendments in this policy.”
The vote was 2-2 with Trustees Hinman and Ganskie voting to adopt the revised policy and Trustee Drew and President Seeley voting No. As Superintendent McFadden explained for the benefit of the public, “the student vote on a matter cannot affect the outcome of an issue from the elected board members. So since the board was two to two among the elected board members, the motion fails for lack of a majority.”