Legislators, education & voting advocates condemn threats, harassment of school board members - AZEdNews
Sections    Thursday March 23rd, 2023

Legislators, education & voting advocates condemn threats, harassment of school board members

Rep. Raquel Teran Calls On Elected Leaders To Denounce The Harassment Of School Board Members And Disruption Of Board Meetings At The House Of Representatives On June 10, 2021. Photo Courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

Arizona Legislators, education and voting advocates are calling on people to treat each other with courtesy, while condemning the actions of people and groups harassing school board members — especially board members of color — and disrupting school board meetings.

Students’ families expressed their support for or disagreement with mask policies during school board meetings throughout the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, groups of people — many who “don’t have kids in the school district, don’t live in the school district, don’t live in the county, who came with the express purpose of whipping up” parents who had come to speak to the board about the mask policy, said Supt. John Carruth of Vail School District to AZEdNews. The incident disrupted a study session, 911 was called, Sheriff’s deputies cleared protestors from the building and the board meeting was cancelled. Since then, school boards around the state have experienced similar protests and put in place plans to address potential safety concerns.

“Threatening public officials for advancing policy you don’t agree with is fundamentally opposed to the behavior we expect from our students. It sends the message when we aren’t getting what we want or we disagree, the thing to do is to try and intimidate the opposition into compliance. That’s a terrible example to set,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.

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Save Our Schools Arizona released a statement Saturday that said it “stands against the growing trend of harassment and misguided protests disrupting school board meetings around AZ.”

“While the public has the right to offer input on curriculum and other district decisions, we reject the racist, hate-filled comments and behaviors on display. These actions have disrupted student celebrations, forced meetings to relocate, and resulted in arrests and police escorts,” Save Our Schools Arizona said.

“Extremist groups and personalities are encouraging their followers to disrupt public meetings based on gross misinformation, Banning teachers from discussing American history, literature of the arts through the historically accurate analysis of racial experience seeks to erase our past and does a disservice to all AZ children, especially children of color,” Save Our Schools Arizona said.

“School personnel and elected officials deserve to do their jobs without seeing their personal safety threatened. Students deserve to be recognized at meetings without disruption. Community members and parents should be able to voice their opinions without fear of potential violence or harassment,” Save Our Schools Arizona said.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas also voiced his support.

Arizona Business and Education Coalition President and CEO Dick Foreman said they join “this call for respect ad civility by all in school governance throughout Arizona.”

ABEC believes harassment, threats and purposeful disruption of school board meetings cannot be accepted or tolerated as a means to disagree. 

ABEC stands with ASBA in calling for an end to these behaviors which not only inhibit the ability of school boards to do the important business of supporting student achievement,but also are likely to discourage some excellent individuals from running for their local boards in the future.

Last week on Arizona House of Representatives floor, Rep. Raquel Teran called on elected leaders to denounce the harassment and disruption.

With Rep. Diego Rodriguez on the left, Rep. Jennifer Longon behind her, and House Minority Leader Rep. Reginald Bolding on the right, and Rep. Lorenzo Sierra joining them in the above video, Rep. Teran said “A group of far-right extremists are targeting school board members using fear and disinformation to disrupt school board meetings and push hateful rhetoric. Some are going so far as to target and harass elected officials – especially women of color – in the name of their manufactured cause.”

“Members, no matter what level of government, we should all strive for policies that move forward an agenda of inclusion and equity, especially at the school board level so that every child can achieve their maximum potential.” Rep. Teran said.

“Our history, no doubt, is controversial, and we cannot shy away from the difficult topics simply because of far right extremists are uncomfortable with the truth and want to rewrite history,” Teran said.

“And we can disagree on policy positions, but we can never allow harassment to be the tactic that we use to disagree, so members, I’m asking that you join me in calling these far-right groups to end their harassment of school board members so that they can focus on our most important priority – our children,” Teran said.

Progress Arizona said the harassment of school board members must stop.

School boards are perhaps the oldest incarnation of elected governance in our state, dating to the days when local residents banded together to provide for the education of their children, said Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams, executive director of Arizona School Boards Association in a statement released this afternoon.

Legislators, education & voting advocates condemn threats, harassment of school board members Dr.-Sheila-Harrison-Williams-WEB
Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams

“They have served as a success story of local cooperation and partnership between government and the community for a common purpose since before statehood. Their members are our closest elected officials — in some cases quite literally our neighbors and friends,” Dr. Harrison-Williams said.

School board members are expected to engage with the community, listen to differing points of view, and make decisions that result in excellent outcomes for all students that the district serves.

“Over the past year, they have been faced with unimaginably difficult decisions and for that we owe these public servants our appreciation,” Dr. Harrison-Williams said. “Sadly, in recent months, school boards have experienced an unprecedented level of harassment and threatening behavior, both online and in person.”

School boards operate under state laws, norms and protocols established to both allow the public to be heard and ensure orderly, productive public meetings. Organized disturbances at board meetings and failure by some members of the public to abide by these rules have led to meetings being cancelled or abruptly adjourned because of safety concerns for the board, staff and attendees. Increased police presence has been required in some instances.

“While it is understandable that emotions can run high when our children are involved, the type of behavior we have seen in recent weeks is a poor example to our students and cannot continue,” Dr. Harrison-Williams said.

Individual members have reported feeling unsafe in their own homes, workplaces and even moving about in the community.

“Board members of color have shared with me instances of verbal attacks and threats of physical violence. No school board member in any community in this state or nation should ever feel that they are placing themselves or their families at risk by serving their communities. This must stop,” Dr. Harrison-Williams said.

“Let me be clear—the content of public speech is not my concern. All members of the community are welcome to provide input on the decisions of the school board. However, it is unacceptable for anyone to disrupt a public meeting, provoke confrontation, harass, on the basis of race or otherwise, or threaten for any reason a public official,” Dr. Harrison-Williams said.

“We thank the elected leaders and other statewide organizations who have called for an end to these types of behavior. Like them, we believe harassment, threats and purposeful disruption cannot be accepted or tolerated as means to disagree,” Dr. Harrison-Williams said.

“We must be the example for conducting ourselves appropriately while expressing opposing views. We cannot give in to the same animosity and vitriol that threatens to consume our national politics. Doing so will harm the civil society we seek to nurture and grow for our children,” Dr. Harrison-Williams said.

Arizona Educational Foundation released a statement saying “Consistent with AEF’s mission to celebrate excellence and cultivate equity in Pre-K through 12th grade Arizona public education, we stand with the Arizona School Boards Association. We condemn harassment, threats, and intimidation directed at school board members.”

Stand for Children Arizona also said “We stand with Arizona School Boards Association. Like them, we believe harassment, threats, and purposeful disruption of school board meetings cannot be accepted or tolerated as means to disagree. It must stop.”