The Eugene School District 4J Board of Directors denounced racism and antisemitism at its virtual meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 15, saying it had “no place” in the 4J community, after threats against students were spread on social media.
“These kinds of actions really undermine our students’ ability to feel safe and feel a sense of belonging,” Board Chair Judy Newman said. “And we will do what it takes to protect the safety of our students and staff.”
4J and neighboring school districts had received racist social media posts over the past two weeks, some of which targeted specific students and groups, Interim Superintendent Cydney Vandercar said. She said that she met with law enforcement, including a Eugene Police Department (EPD) detective who is investigating the posts, last Wednesday, and she said none of the posts have been found to be a credible threat against student safety.
Threats of violence to happen in schools on Friday, Dec. 17, spread nationwide on TikTok this week. In a message from the district that was emailed to the community and posted to Facebook, 4J said there were no credible threats of violence. EPD and the Lane County Sheriff’s Office echoed that in statements released Dec. 16. 4J said that schools would operate as normal on Friday. TikTok Communications tweeted that law enforcement confirmed there is no credible threat. The social media company said that it had not found any videos promoting violence, just videos discussing the threat.
Vandercar said she also joined North Eugene High School educators Linda Hamilton of the Eugene chapter of Blacks in Government and Miles Pendleton of the Eugene Springfield NAACP to hear from concerned community members. “The message is clear: Students and staff want a swift and definitive response to stop this behavior.”
Vandercar sent an email to the 4J community on Dec. 13, which she also read aloud at the meeting.
Board member Laural O’Rourke said in her individual comments that while she appreciated Vandercar’s email to the district, it needed to come sooner. “I have felt the frustration and I’ve spoken frequently on how district equity work has been a performance with no real substance behind it,” she said. “Please know that this is not only two weeks of harm; this is a harm that happens every day, but the difference is that there’s proof.”
The district will also put forth a policy specific to racial harassment. Vandercar said she met with a group that included Hamilton and 4J board member Maya Rabasa to begin developing the policy, with another meeting planned in early January.
Vandercar said they hope to have the policy ready to present to board members by the next meeting on Jan. 12, 2022.
Representatives for the Eugene Education Association also condemned the racist posts and called on the district to do more. Educators held rallies against the hateful social media posts at North and South Eugene high schools Wednesday afternoon before the board meeting. “EEA, including our BIPOC members, look forward to partnering with 4J to identify and take action to better support our students and educators, especially our Black and Jewish community,” EEA Racial Equity Director Jesse Scott said. “We want to thrive. We believe that if we work together, we can.”
During the public comment period, members of the community and the board also addressed the possibility of middle schools’ not having track and field for a third season in a row. Vandercar said no decision has been made yet, citing lack of transportation and adult supervision as potential obstacles.
Some community members spoke on behalf of the track program, pointing out that the cancellation disproportionately affects lower-income students, since parents with more disposable income can enroll their students in private sports. Bella Donahue, a South Eugene High School sophomore, spoke at the meeting, saying, “For me, middle school track and field opened up a whole new world in terms of the importance of exercising, the fundamentals of team support and the focus needed to compete in individual events.”
Donahue suggested that schools could crowdsource support from parents, which board member Gordon Lafer said he liked. “Given the outpouring of support we’ve gotten from that, it seems like we should be able to get parent volunteers as we need,” Lafer said.
Vandercar said the district would make a decision on the upcoming season after winter break.
The board spent much of the rest of the board meeting discussing a vote on allowing the board to require community benefits contracts for the construction of Camas Ridge Community School. Community benefits contracts add requirements for things like employer-paid family health insurance and apprenticeship programs as a part of bids from contractors.
The board members discussed what they called a “fail-safe,” which would allow the district to rebid contracts without the requirements if they did not get at least three bids or the bids were more expensive.
The proposal passed 6-1, with all but board member Mary Walston in favor. Walston said she was concerned that the requirements would cost the district more money, and that they didn’t have enough data or analysis to make an informed decision.
Rabasa responded to Walston’s critiques to defend the contract requirements. “This is a way of acting as a responsible member of the community at large,” she said, “but even more so, for me, what this feels like is, this feels like investing in the future workspace of our students, who we are telling over and over and over that there are multiple pathways to a successful and fruitful life.”
The initial proposal left out roofers and glaziers, but Lafer made amendments to include both. Both amendments passed, but while including glaziers passed along the same lines as the proposal as a whole, the roofers amendment passed 4-3. Newman, Walston and board member Alicia Hays voted against it.
Newman said she voted against including roofers because she wanted to hire local contractors, and she thought that the extra requirements would prevent local contractors from qualifying.
During the meeting, the board also updated the language to the district’s rules requiring people who work in the district to report abuse if they believe anyone they know has been perpetuating abuse or if they believe any child they know has been abused. The board learned about the changes in a presentation during the previous board meeting on Dec. 1.
They also agreed to try to limit their individual comments at the beginning of each meeting to try to cut down on the length of the meetings, as suggested at the last meeting.
O’Rourke left the meeting early, which Newman said was for personal reasons, so the board moved discussion of working agreements to the next meeting in January.
The board will break until after the new year. The next meeting will be Jan. 12, 2022. Because seating is limited, community members who wish to attend must request to attend the meeting on 4J’s website by 5 pm Monday, Jan. 10.