Anti-Maskers Delay Eugene School Board Meeting

After disruptive start and EPD response, 4J board chooses Chicago firm to lead superintendent search

Community members protested face mask requirements and vaccine clinics at Wednesday, Nov. 17’s Eugene District 4J school board meeting, leading to a delay in proceedings. Once the meeting commenced, the board addressed the search for a new superintendent and no-student days to provide teachers and staff relief.

Around 20 people arrived shortly before the 7 pm meeting began, according to Kerry Delf, 4J chief of staff. “Some came into the building without wearing face masks as required, entered the board room, shouted at board members and district staff, and refused to either comply with required safety measures or leave the building when directed to do so,” Delf says in an email. 

Board member Gordon Lafer tells Eugene Weekly that the group was there to protest vaccinations and masks. The topic of vaccinations and masks was not on the agenda for the meeting. “

About half [of the group] were inside and the other were outside,” he says. He adds that he recognized some of the protesters as parents of local students. Lafer says that when Eugene police officers arrived, most of the protesters left 4J property. 

At 6:52 pm, Eugene police officers came to clear the area, which took around half an hour, according to EPD pokesperson John Hankemeier. He says that because the board shifted to holding its meeting over Zoom, no police enforcement was necessary. 

Because seating at board meetings is limited due to COVID safety measures, community members who would like to attend in-person must submit a request prior to the meeting. Face masks are also required in all 4J facilities, including public meetings. 

The meeting reconvened on Zoom at 8 pm, which board members attended from their homes. Despite removing multiple items from the agenda, the meeting lasted nearly five hours, running until 1 am.

The board voted to contract with Chicago-based Alma Advisory Group to lead the search for the new 4J superintendent over McPherson & Jacobsen. Alma Advisory Group is a Black-owned firm. 

Board members agreed that both were good choices, with McPherson & Jacobsen bringing years of experience and a deep network and Alma bringing new perspective and a focus on equity, but with a higher price tag. 

“There’s risks on all sides,” board member Martina Shabram said, “and I think where I am coming down on this is just that I’m willing to risk for the possibility of hoping towards something new and hoping that part of what we will be getting is a new approach and a new way to do things that may inform other processes within our district.”

The motion passed 5-2, with Mary Walston and Alicia Hays opposing. Walston said she was concerned with the price, while Hays said she was concerned that Alma did not include the Latino or Black Superintendent Caucuses in groups they would contact.

Nearly two hours of the meeting was taken up by debate over choosing dates for no-student days to provide teachers and staff relief and allow kitchens and buses to be serviced, and patience wore thin as the meeting ran into Thursday morning.

The initial dates proposed were Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, and Jan. 14, the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Interim Superintendent Cydney Vandercar proposed Nov. 24 because of data showing that it has low attendance anyway, but several board members said they were concerned that because the date was only a week away, the short notice would be a burden on working parents. 

Lafer suggested alternative dates coinciding with term changes: Dec. 6 and 7, Jan. 28, and March 28, which board members Maya Rabasa and Laural O’Rourke supported. But the other board members were concerned that Dec. 6 and 7 would still be too soon. Vandercar said those dates would also not work to service the buses because the buses would still be used to drive students to other school districts as well.

After several proposed amendments failed, the board voted not to take any dates off yet. Instead, Vandercar will propose new dates that can provide relief for teachers while minimizing the impact on parents at the next board meeting on Dec. 1.

Additional reporting by Henry Houston

This story has been updated.

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