May 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Member claims school board hijacked by racist leadership

8 min read
Laural O'Rourke says although members should be considered equal, racist leadership has hijacked the Eugene 4J School Board. "We are not doing it right. But we could," she said at the March 1 board meeting.

4J board members are asked to discuss use of the Signal app for private messaging. At the March 1 meeting:

[00:00:08] Maya Rabasa (4J School Board chair): All board members are in attendance tonight, which includes Alicia Hayes, Gordon Lafer, Judy Newman, Keerti Hasija Kauffman, Laural O’Rourke, Michelle Hsu, and myself, Maya Rabasa. …Alicia?

[00:00:22] Alicia Hayes (4J School Board member): I would like to add to the agenda this evening, a discussion about the use of the Signal app.

[00:00:27] Gordon Lafer (4J School board co-chair): Objection.

[00:00:28] Alicia Hayes: Well, I’ll make a motion then, since Gordon has an objection. I’d like to move that we add to the agenda this evening, the discussion about the use of the Signal app.

[00:00:37] During our Feb. 1 meeting, I requested that communication and use of the Signal app be put on our upcoming agenda. At that time it was requested that we have an attorney give us input regarding the use of the app and it’s legality regarding public records and open meeting laws.

[00:00:55] I have looked at the minutes from the last two leadership meetings and I found no indication that the topic has been scheduled, although it was referred to leadership.

[00:01:03] I’m asking that as a board we discuss why we as a board would use Signal and if those members who have used it to text other board members are intending to use it, or have terminated the use of it.

[00:01:17] I’m hoping that tonight we can get answers to these questions that have been raised by our community members and gain a better understanding of why board members would be using this app. These questions do not require attorneys. Let’s deal with this now and get back to the important work of providing the best education to all of our 4J students.

[00:01:39] Gordon Lafer: I just wanted to let everybody know that this was dealt with by leadership and that Chief of Staff Rob Hess and I had conversation (and) reached out to Eric DeFreest to ask him to prepare a briefing will include legal guidance on a number of things, but also specifically including use of Signal, Snapchat, or other digital platforms that don’t retain records. He agreed and is working on that, and we’re expecting that to happen in a month.

[00:02:08] Laural O’Rourke (4J School Board member): We can make the policy, we can have the discussion, we can do everything that needs to be done to talk about this, and then it should go to a lawyer, absolutely. But lawyers—and this district has had a problem with this—do not make policy. They check policy to make sure it’s legal and it falls within the proper guidelines.

[00:02:32] I also would like to say Eric DeFreest has been biased in executive sessions against me and I do not think he’s appropriate to be doing this work. And I have asked for us not to continue to use them.

[00:02:49] Judy Newman (4J School Board member): I appreciate that leadership did reach out but I think the conversation is why do we need to use this, how are we going to communicate with each other. I think that is very much our conversation and I believe that is germane to us being able to work together. So I’d like to have an opportunity to talk together as a board about this.

[00:03:10] Laural O’Rourke: It is very important that we follow public meetings law. And I think it’s interesting and worrisome that we have pushback against having this discussion on this board. Public meetings law is there for a reason, and so the public can know what their elected officials are doing.

[00:03:29] I think it’s very important that we show as a board that we want to have this discussion and that we do not want to continue using systems that can be seen as unethical. I think it’s very important that we show that to the public. It’s not just about us. We are representatives of our public and we set an example for our students in what is ethical and right. Or we can set the example of, ‘What can we get away with?’

[00:04:00] Alicia Hayes: When I wrote this and brought it forward, it’s because the Signal app has been what people are saying that we have four board members using. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in an attempt to be better and communicate more, it feels very hard for me to think that that’s happening, and I just really wanted an opportunity kind of to clear the air on Signal. And so if this not happening I wanted to give people a chance to say, ‘I’ve never used it. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ‘Cause Signal is what’s swirling.

[00:04:33] I don’t want to wait a month to clear the air on Signal because where I sit, not being one of the people that has it, I have a lot of concerns and questions and they may not be valid concerns and questions but I don’t know that, because I’m not meeting with you all and asking you. So in an attempt to be transparent, to bring these things to the surface, that’s why I wanted to talk about it tonight.

[00:04:58] Maya Rabasa: All those in favor of adding as an item for information, a discussion of the use of the Signal app, raise your hand and say ‘Aye.’ We have three hands raised. All those opposed, raise your hand and say ‘Nay.’ We have four hands raised. The motion does not pass. With ayes from Laurel O’Rourke, Alicia Hayes and Judy Newman. And nays from Maya Rabasa, Michelle Hsu, Gordon Lafer, and Keerti Hasija Kauffman.

[00:05:31] John Q: With concluding statements at the March 1st meeting, board member Laurel O’Rourke.

[00:05:36] Laural O’Rourke: When it’s been said that four board members are using Signal, and then those four board members vote against a conversation about it—a conversation, not a decision, a conversation—that’s obstruction. That shows it’s not good intent.

[00:05:55] I want to be on a board where there is good intent. I want to be on a board where people hold themselves accountable. Yes, we need to talk about communication, but the real problem is—

[00:06:08] Gordon Lafer: Point of order. We have a standing rule against assuming intent or intention—

[00:06:13] Laural O’Rourke: No, we do not have a rule about that. I get to talk about my talk, what I say in this time.

[00:06:19] Gordon Lafer: If we are…intent to each other…

[00:06:24] Laural O’Rourke: Wow! Our racist board member Gordon Lafer is stopping the Black female from talking. Please everybody—

[00:06:32] Maya Rabasa: Gordon raised a point of order. We need to stop and address the point of order…We are going to recess. We’ll be back, we’ll be back shortly.

[00:06:43] Laural O’Rourke: There needs to be a vote for a recess unless there’s a safety issue. There needs to be a vote. Nice, I can continue talking now, ’cause we’re still on. I, you know, I’m on a racist board. I’m—

[00:07:01] John Q: When the meeting resumed:

[00:07:03] Laural O’Rourke: So my other remarks are about the student who talked about the safety of Black kids in schools, and this is an a great example, what just happened, of what happens in our schools.

[00:07:17] I’m a figurehead. I know I’m not very important. I don’t think everybody else on this board realizes that, but we are here for students. So every time I point out racism, inappropriate behavior, unethical behavior, I am pointing out what happens to our students. We have a culture in 4J that is toxic. It is very normal for the bullies—if they look a certain way, especially—to not be held accountable. That is what that student was talking about.

[00:07:52] And for all the board members who are like, ‘Oh, she’s amazing, I love it,’ yes, she is, because she was speaking truth to power. And you can’t just clap but also then shut down the Black board member’s voice because you don’t like that she talks about your use of Signal.

[00:08:08] It’s unethical. And one person doesn’t get to decide intent. That is unethical. We have a board of seven people. It has been hijacked. We need to be a board of seven people who are making these decisions together. I’m more than happy to make these decisions with seven other people.

[00:08:28] Racism is real. It’s happening in our schools all the time. It is ignored continually by administrators and educators.

[00:08:38] There are a few people that raise their hand, but they’re told to be silent. I know for a fact because … speaking about the racism I am dealing with from Maya Rabasa and Gordon Lafer, who has said I am ‘egotistical and selfish,’ and I need to ‘sit back and listen…’

[00:08:54] I have been pushed off the Mental Health committee, the Student Voice Committee, and the Charter Committee. I believe (and this is intent), that I am being pushed off this board. (That is the one.) And it’s not necessary. People can just look at their behavior. We could all be emotionally mature people and look at their behavior and what you’re doing, because ego is getting in the way of good behavior.

[00:09:24] And we, I came here because I really wanted to change this culture. I wanted our special education students to be in a school district where they were valued. They are still not. They are—I’m going to repeat that:  Our special education students still are not.

[00:09:40] When our board voted not to follow racial harassment policy, they sent a signal to many, many people that they were not safe in this district. And they sent a signal to the bullies that they were very safe because they’re, the bullies are the ones who said, ‘Please don’t vote for this.’

[00:10:03] So all I was asking for was help and for us to look at our behaviors. We are not doing it right. But we could. I am asking for very legitimate things and I am being silenced with bad behavior.

[00:10:22] John Q: Four school board members said to be using the Signal app vote down a discussion of private messaging. Board member Laural O’Rourke says all members should be considered equal but the school board has been hijacked by racist leadership.

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