Intimidation of School Boards
Who will be willing serve?
Unlike most elected positions in local government, serving on a school board (at least in Idaho or Washington) is an unpaid, volunteer position. On top of that, school board service requires time and effort spent on an election campaign, and, after winning a seat on a board, it requires many hours of meetings dedicated to budgets, levies, and other issues, often with little thanks or notice from the community served. We, as voters and members of our communities, have tended to take the service, selflessness, and goodwill of school board candidates for granted.
You might be pardoned if all that makes you wonder who on earth would put themselves through an election campaign--and then endure seemingly endless meetings—as an unpaid and often unthanked community servant. If you take the time to meet currently serving school board members (in most communities) it turns out they are mostly altruists, people with a genuine interest in providing our youth with a quality education. They have day jobs, children, and families that they juggle just like the rest of us.
This year many school board members all over the U.S. are enduring intimidation that threatens to drive these altruists away from serving their communities, tipping the balance in favor of ideological extremists who pander to the intimidators (or are the intimidators) while they present themselves to the voting public as reasonable people.
Case in Point:
After rowdy, confrontational anti-mask protestors forced the cancellation of a School Board meeting scheduled to address the issue of mask mandates, about three dozen of the protesters then invaded the Coeur d’Alene School District offices and frightened staff, actions that prompted a 911 call and a building lockdown. (See videos here and here if you have any doubt about the threatening, intimidating nature of this crowd). A Spokesman headline on Friday, October 1, read “Two [of five] CdA school board members announce resignations following mask controversy.” Board Chair Jennifer Brumley and Trustee Tambra Pickford announced their intention to resign one week after the special board meeting cancellation.
Board Chair Jennifer Brumley was appointed to the CDA School Board in 2018. Her term ends this December, but her resignation will be effective a month early. She had spoken out about the stress of intimidation and bullying before the protests depicted in the videos. One is left to imagine the subsequent stress that precipitated Brumley’s rushed resignation. The other resigning board member, Tambra Pickford, was elected to the Coeur d’Alene School Board in 2015 and re-elected in 2019. Her second term doesn’t end until December, 2023—yet she is resigning two years and a month early alongside Brumley. Brumley and Pickford were part of the 3-2 majority that had voted on September 13 to “strongly recommend” mask wear in schools in the face of the rapid spread of Covid 19 that has forced North Idaho hospitals into triage mode. Neither Brumley nor Pickford was candid in their resignation letters about the threats they faced for even this watered-down recommendation—but it seems that the bottom line here is that the belligerent anti-mask, anti-science, anti-protect-your-neighbor crowd has won.
The remaining Board (two of whom voted against making any mask recommendation) will name a “successor resident” to the School Board per Idaho State law to finish Pickford’s two years of remaining term, probably ensuring a 3 to 1 like-minded, anti-mask majority on the board. The occupant of the fifth seat, Brumley’s, will depend on the results of the November general election. Brumley and one other of the four candidates originally on the ballot, Jeff Zember, have withdrawn from the November election. (See Zember’s response to a rowdy school board meeting in July.) Zember filed on August 31 to run for Brumley’s seat after he penned his response to the July meeting, but, after the recent belligerence protests, he changed course and withdraw his name for the November election.
In our neighboring Kootenai County the animosity and intimidation extends to higher education. On September 22 a 3-2 majority of the trustees of North Idaho College fired the President of the College, Rick MacLennan. The firing was officially “without cause”, but it came after MacLennan’s imposition of a mask mandate, the trustees rescinding of the mandate, and a few week’s delay, presumably to disconnect the firing from the rescinding in the mind of the public. MacLennan is not taking it his firing lying down. On October 1 MacLennan filed a lawsuit against the three members of the Board of Trustees who voted to fire him, Board Chair Todd Banducci, Vice Chair Greg McKenzie and Trustee Michael Barnes. The article in the Bonner County Daily Bee on the firing and the lawsuit is illuminating. (Click here.) The malignant interference of the far right Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC) in establishing the 3-2 majority that fired MacLennan is made clear in this letter.
Intimidation and conflict over mask mandates and other cultural issues (like the bogus dustup over “critical race theory”) are obviously enough to discourage many reasonable people from running for and serving in these suddenly thankless volunteer positions. And such capitulation is exactly what the far right Republican ideologues fomenting these protests want to see. Ultimately, these ideologues want detailed control over public school curricula.
Spokane County school boards are not immune from intimidation. Protests have shut down school board meetings in the Central Valley and Spokane Public Schools Districts. Extremist candidates for the school board in Central Valley are trying to engineer a full takeover of the board (more in a post later this week). Some candidates for School Board for the two open seats in Spokane Public Schools (District 81) are more subtle than those in Central Valley, but are cut from the same cloth.
It’s time to pay attention to School Board races. The altruists who volunteer their time and expertise on our School Boards are coming under increasing pressure and intimidation from the far right. School Board members deserve our thanks and our support—and more than ever we owe it to the current members to scrutinize the candidates running for positions on those boards before casting our ballots.
In the meantime, send a note to your current school board indicating your support for their efforts to keep our children safe.
Here’s the page with the email addresses for the Board at Spokane Public Schools:
Here are the school board members and their email addresses for Central Valley:
Keep to the high ground,