East Bay Times
Feb. 19—Unaware their virtual meeting had gone live, Oakley school board trustees stunned and angered listeners Wednesday when one used profanity to call out a parent who had criticized her while others joked that parents wanted schools to reopen so they could have their babysitters back or smoke pot.
The two-minute exchange of disparaging remarks came before the start of the regular Oakley Elementary School District board meeting in which trustees were to discuss what a reopening plan could look like, something many parents had eagerly awaited. But after hearing the trustees vent about them, hundreds of parents and others took to social media to let trustees know what they thought of them.
“This behavior is disgusting,” Kendra Romero wrote on an online petition demanding the trustees’ resignation. “As parents we should not tolerate our representatives to behave in this manner.”
Romero said she started to record the Webex meeting, which she later uploaded to YouTube, when she heard some negative comments from trustees about parents of kindergartners.
“Oakley needs a new school board that will stand up for parents and their children,” she said on the petition, which had picked up 3,256 signatures as of 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Rebecca Mackowiak said she started the petition calling for resignations instead of a recall because the latter “would cost the district money that should be going to the kids.”
“I am asking that the board members to resign immediately due to their egregious behavior,” she said in the petition. “They should no longer represent the parents, teachers, and children in this school district.”
On Thursday morning, Oakley Elementary School District Superintendent Greg Hetrick issued a statement taking responsibility for the matter. Trustees could not be reached for comment.
“Last night at the Oakley Union Elementary School District regular board meeting there were unfortunate and truly inappropriate comments made that were heard by many,” he wrote. “These comments are not typical and more importantly they are not what the community should expect from our school district. … I know that we lost trust with the community. I will not make excuses for what happened or why it happened. I am the superintendent. I am responsible and accountable and I am truly sorry for what took place.”
Trustees were awaiting the start of the late afternoon meeting on Wednesday when they began discussing parents’ letters and social media posts about reopening schools.
“It’s easy to hide behind a screen but when you’re face to face with people it’s a whole different ball game,” Trustee Richie Masadas said.
Trustee Kim Beede then defended herself against a parent who chided her on social media for going to a party during the coronavirus pandemic after declaring it wasn’t safe to return to school.
“I wasn’t doing anything bad — I honestly don’t care about that part — but are we alone?” she asked the other trustees. “B…., ..If you call me out, I’m going to f… you up.”
“Sorry, that’s just me,” Beede added.
After some laughter, Trustee Lisa Brizendine chimed in to commiserate with others about the growing criticism they’ve faced over closed schools, suggesting parents really want schools to reopen so they get their babysitters back.
“They forget that there’s real people behind those letters they are writing,” she said. “We are real community members, we have kids or have known kids who have gone to those schools, so we have a vested interest in this process and they don’t know what goes on behind the scene and it’s unfortunate they want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back.”
Masadas suggested parents wanted their free time for other reasons.
“My brother had a delivery service for medical marijuana. The high clientele were the parents with their kids at school. When you have your kids at home, no more (inaudible),” Masadas said, clasping his hands on his forehead as others chuckled in the background.
Most of the parents lighting up social media didn’t think the discussion was so funny, however.
“Wow! This is just absurd!” Chantell Hergenroether, an Oakley mother of two students, said in a social media post. “They imply parents, trying to reinvent their lives during this pandemic and trying to keep jobs are just missing babysitters. This is appalling. There needs to be accountability to the highest degree. Resign.”
“My first-graders know when to mute themselves during Zoom class and they can’t realize they’re public?” said another mom in an Oakley Facebook group page.
“It’s sickening,” Andrea, who didn’t want her last name used, wrote in an email to Bay Area News Group. “School boards across the state of California are depriving children of in-person education and they speak like this when they think no one is watching. Parents just want kids back to school so they can have a babysitter and so they can smoke pot at home? Truly sickening these people have the amount of power they have as they continue ruining the mental, educational and social health of millions of kids across the state.”
“Having a position on the board is a privilege,” Kelly Hubbard wrote on the online petition. “Making decisions for our children used to be an honorable position to hold. These members have clearly lost sight of their role behind the comfort of their own keyboards. If I were a parent in this district I would not stop until they all resign.”
“There is no excuse for their behavior,” Melissa Serpa wrote in an email to this news organization. “They chose to say the remarks they made. They chose to be open about their opinions and biases, which hinder their decision-making abilities.”
But one parent said in an email that although the trustees’ remarks were “uncalled for,” their resignation was not a good idea since the school year is nearly over.
“We all complain about transparency well there you have it…..the truth,” she wrote. “…Instead of everyone being against each other, can’t we come together as one and give these kids the best few months of their lives?”
Others on social media criticized Superintendent Hetrick for not speaking up and for suggesting that the board implement a new system that would require residents to call their comments into a recording that cuts them off at three minutes rather than allowing them to call in live.
Hetrick said in an email Thursday he is “committed to working together for the betterment of the Oakley Union Elementary School District students, staff and entire school community.”
“I know that our students deserve better from us,” he wrote. “I pledge to work collaboratively with stakeholders and community members to begin doing the important work that is needed to rebuild community trust in our district.”
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