Entire School Board Resigns After Members Are Caught Criticizing Parents Online


“Uh-oh.”

That was what one member of the board in charge of elementary and middle schools in Oakley, Calif., uttered Wednesday afternoon when she realized her online conversation with other members had been broadcast to the public.

The members had spent two minutes mocking parents, suggesting they wanted teachers back in school so they could have “their babysitters back” and go back to smoking marijuana.

The entire time, parents who had logged in for the regular twice-monthly meeting of the board had been listening. The response to the board members’ comments was swift and furious — another reminder of the rage and anguish many parents are feeling as school closures drag into the spring.

Thousands of people signed an online petition calling for the resignation of all four board members, who were heard laughing and jeering at parents. The mayor of Oakley, Sue Higgins, said that although she had no jurisdiction over the Oakley Union Elementary School District, she called on board members to resign, according to the local news site East County Today.

On Friday, the district superintendent, Greg D. Hetrick, announced that all four members, including the president, Lisa Brizendine, had resigned from the board of trustees. A fifth member had stepped down from the board in January, so the resignations left the board entirely without trustees.

Three members, Kim Beede, Richie Masadas and Erica Ippolito, said in a statement that they “deeply regret the comments” and were resigning to “help facilitate the healing process.”

“As trustees, we realize it is our responsibility to model the conduct that we expect of our students and staff, and it is our obligation to build confidence in district leadership,” they said in the statement, which was included in a letter from Mr. Hetrick announcing the resignations.

“Our comments failed you in both regards, and for this we offer our sincerest apology,” the members said.

The members did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Saturday. The president of the Contra Costa County Office of Education may appoint new members until new ones are elected or appointed, according to a county law that was cited in Mr. Hetrick’s letter.

The district has more than 470 employees and about 5,000 students in nine elementary and middle schools throughout Oakley, a city of about 42,000 people 40 miles east of Oakland.

Students in the district have been learning remotely since last March and, as in other parts of the country, parents are eager for information about their schools’ plans to return to in-person learning. Before the meeting, they had submitted letters to the board asking for more transparency, expressing their frustration and voicing concerns that their children were suffering as a result of remote learning.

On Wednesday, the trustees started venting to one another about the negative feedback they said they had been getting and began making jokes.

Ms. Beede complained about a woman who had lashed out at her on social media and, cursing, suggested she would go after her critic physically.

“Sorry, that’s just me,” Ms. Beede said, laughing.

“They want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back,” Ms. Brizendine said.

“I totally hear that,” said Richie Masadas, who went on to describe how his brother had a delivery service for medical marijuana.

The clientele “were parents with their kids in school,” he said, as board members laughed.

Moments later, Ms. Beede informed the board members that they were already live before the public.

“We have the meeting open to the public right now,” Ms. Beede said.

“Nuh-uh,” replied Ms. Brizendine.

“Great,” another member said as the screen went dark and was replaced with the words “practice session in progress.”

By Saturday afternoon, more than 6,600 people had signed a petition that threatened to recall the trustees if they did not resign.

“Parents were tuned in to learn if we will be sending our kids back to school soon and if not, why,” the petition stated. “There has been a lack of communication from the board and this was the first communication we heard.”

For parents, who for months had been imploring the board for more information about the district’s plans, the insults were “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Angela Palacio, who has four children, including a daughter in the first grade who has struggled with remote learning.

“That blew my mind,” Ms. Palacio, 42, said of the remarks. “I was like, what, are you kidding me? It just showed the lack of respect that our school board has for parenting as well as the people in our community.”

Ms. Palacio, who had written to the board, said her husband, who works in steel manufacturing, had to take two months of family leave so he could help his daughter, 7, navigate the online work.

One person who signed the petition said it was understandable that the board felt under pressure.

“But we expect professionalism and solutions to be discussed during closed sessions,” the signer stated. “Not what we witnessed.”

Mr. Hetrick, who was present during the meeting but did not comment, described the incident as an “unfortunate situation.”

“I am committed to returning the attention to student learning and getting our students back in school,” he said in the letter announcing the resignations. “This unfortunate situation will not discourage or detract me from working to build back the trust in our community and return our students safely back to school as soon as possible.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *