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David Calaway shouts Aug. 10 at the Bend-La Pine School Board during a contentious

meeting at Bend High School.

Three Bend-La Pine School Board members — all people of color — have become targets of harassment and intimidation, said board Chair Melissa Barnes Dholakia.

She said the actions have taken place on social media, in emails to the board, public comment and through the district’s official complaint process.

Barnes Dholakia took a strong stance at a school board meeting Tuesday night, calling the behavior “intolerable” and saying it cannot continue.

“That this is happening at all should be a red flag for our greater community who are committed to democratic principles,” Barnes Dholakia said. “That it is disproportionally targeted at our board members who are Black, Indigenous, Latina and Pacific Islander needs to be a wake-up call.”

She said there appears to be a new “playbook” for treating elected officials that has been adopted by those who do not feel that their views are represented.

“I want to engage with the public. But that is not what this is,” Barnes Dholakia said. “This is about harassment. It is about intimidation. And it is about working to try and ensure that people in elected office — who were elected by the majority — do not seek reelection and to discourage others from running.”

Tuesday’s meeting drew protesters organized by the Deschutes County chapter of Moms for Liberty, who gathered outside of the school district building. The conservative activist group has protested curriculum related to race at school districts throughout Central Oregon.

Others tied to conservative groups and the Republican Party have also frequented school board meetings since July, creating disruptions. In-person meetings over the summer had police presence and drew crowds of more than 200 people protesting mask and coronavirus vaccination requirements and lesson plans related to race and gender identity.

The similar trend has affected school boards nationwide.

Barnes Dholakia said she has offered to meet with nearly 100 people to discuss their issues and concerns over the last two years, with only seven taking her up on the offer. It leads her to believe those most vocal just want a stage, she said.

In a letter to President Biden in early September, the National School Boards Association asked for federal assistance to stop threats and acts of violence against school boards and others in education.

“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” the letter said.

“As the threats grow and news of extremist hate organizations showing up at school board meetings is being reported, this is a critical time for a proactive approach to deal with this difficult issue.”

In response to the letter U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed federal law enforcement to strategize with law enforcement.

Barnes Dholakia said, “This is disheartening in that it should have never had to occur.”

Just in the last six weeks, she said the board has received an unusual number of complaints. Two were filed through the district’s complaint process and one filed at the state level, and all three involve board members of color. So far, one has been determined to be unfounded, and the others are still being reviewed, Barnes Dholakia said adding that complaints filed through the district are reviewed by an independent third-party investigator.

The board is also encountering national attention.

Turning Point USA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for conservative values in schools, recently featured school board member, Janet Sarai Llerandi Gonzalez, on it’s “school board watchlist” on Instagram.

The nonprofit organization, which has 1.6 million followers on the social media platform, said the watchlist “finds, documents and exposes school board leadership across America that supports anti-American, radical, hateful, immoral, and racist teachings in their district — such as critical race theory, the 1619 Project, sexual/gender ideology, and more.”

Llerandi Gonzalez was chosen because of a quote by Angela Davis, a political activist, she included in her biography on the school district website. The post drew thousands of likes.

Llerandi Gonzalez, who was elected to the school board in May, affirmed Barnes Dholakia’s statement, saying board members who are people of color, including herself, are being disproportionately targeted.

“And it’s going to be evident by the amount of money that the district is having to spend on investing resources for these bogus, inflammatory, unfounded ethics complaint violations that they’re taking as far as the state,” she said.

Llerandi Gonzalez said she has been threatened on multiple occasions.

“It’s plain to see their hatred and their anger and frustration because they lost as a party, is being directed at people of color that are taking roles in leadership that haven’t been before,” she said.

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nbales@bendbulletin.com

(22) comments

Gary Mendoza

The racist canard has been over-used as a means to stifle debate. The school board would be better served by engaging parents’ objections on their merits, not vilifying them for raising their concerns.

BuckeyeDuck

You assume that the board has not tried to engage parents. The Chair has stated multiple times that she's offered time to folks who've emailed her and they decline.

As to the merits of their complaints, being called the devil and evil? How about while being heckled when attempting to answer a question or concern.

They are in a leadership position based on an election by the populace and are making decisions on what they feel is best for the system.

LibGravy

Hey, BuckeyeDuck. You admitted in an earlier post about the BendLaPine School

board meeting that you did not attend the meeting. So how do you know what actually happened?

BuckeyeDuck

They have a YouTube video of each meeting. That includes comments by the audience.

LibGravy

A lot of comments brought forth here due to the School Board chair saying that parent comments and feedback “disproportionately targeted at our school board members who are Black, Indigenous, Latina and Pacific Islander…” She made these (racist) comments without providing any corroborating evidence. Are we supposed to take her comments at face value? Are we supposed to believe her assertions to be unbiased? The Bulletin published this article without providing evidence of her assertions. What was the purpose of her giving these comments? To quell parental pushback? Does she also want the FBI involved in School Board pushback?

Bytor

[thumbup]

BuckeyeDuck

In answer to your questions. She did not make a (racist) comment but reported about those targeted the most and as to the evidence, that may have been provided to local law enforcement if there were threats involved. Contact law enforcement for corroboration. Yes on face value. Yes on unbiased and the Bulletin published this because of the ongoing issues of locals along with this being part of the national tendency of intimidation versus actual dialog.

Quelling parent pushback? Really. No she is telling the district what types of intimidation is coming their way.

Board pushback? They should use law enforcement if needed.

Pnwhof

These people don't want dialogue, they want political theater. They are emboldened and pushed by a faction of our so-called democracy that has lost sight of what Democracy is. They are an embarrassment to anyone who actually wants to promote change in a respectable, high minded, intellectual way. They are thugs. Period.

Marcomm

You had me at "Mom's for Liberty". Easy to guess whose liberty those moms are interested in.

64363

The so-called Moms for Liberty are for white liberty. They are in deep with a phony group called Parents Defending Education, which is funded by rightwing extremists.

https://www.masspoliticsprofs.org/2021/04/12/koch-connections-and-sham-grassroots-of-parents-defending-education/

In Bend they surfaced after their candidates lost badly in recent school board elections. They immediately started targeting the board members of color who defeated their candidates.

Moms for Liberty need to be exposed as the racist organization they are.

Skittish

So why should anyone trust your conclusions on who the Moms for Liberty are? You do know the difference between opinion and fact? They are in "deep" with essentially "right wing extremists"? Accusations without evidence can be disregarded without evidence as well. Why should false accusations be tolerated?

Bytor

[thumbup]

71330

Maybe the Moms for liberty are not a racist organization, but they act like a racist, talk like a racist and walk like a racist organization, and certainly the racisits think they are a racist organization...

BuckeyeDuck

If they walk like a duck, talk like a duck.... Watching the KTVZ 5:00 report about the couple dozen MFLs who protested prior to the board meeting was interesting. One mother spouted that her children (they must be elementary unless she had kids very early) were only being taught social/LGBT/racial subjects right now, not their ABCs, etc. Hmmm, sounds like the national mantra from these folks. Ironically she did say she wants them being taught history, which should include some of what she doesn't want.

Skittish

So can you quote a racist comment or show any racist signs? The answer is of course no.

91184

They are targeting persons of color on the School Board. That is what is being reported. You can choose to see that as a coincidence, or you can treat it as it is--racism.

Skittish

Being accused of something doesn’t make them guilty. It’s hard to disprove false accusations. I choose to see what is objective and then form an opinion and not let my emotions delude me. They are addressing the board some of whom happen to be darker toned. Can you not differentiate this? Is the message that no one should question dark toned people?

91184

Your point of view on the matter is what's delusional, not your emotions.

We are both operating off the same amount of information at this point. You call them false accusations without any proof of their falsehood. That is hardly being objective.

The Board Chair has stated that the Persons of Color on the Board are being singled-out by these groups as part of a coordinated effort to intimidate them. This wastes everyone's time and our tax dollars that could be better spent elsewhere. That is shameful in its own right, and at least to me, is motivated in part by racial animus.

Skittish

One shouldn’t have to provide proof of falsehood. That’s why our judicial system operates on the innocent until proven guilty. You don’t understand that concept well enough. It is your elitist animus driving your reactions and emotions. Do you really understand animus? Or just well enough to project yourself onto others?

64363

Not just my opinion. I know school board members who have been followed and intimidated. I provided a wwbsite that looks at the roots of this group. Do some research.

BuckeyeDuck

Skittish loves to turn things around thru deflection and lots of words making everyone else the guilty party. Case in point it's okay for folks to CLAIM the school

board is lying without showing proof even if it is a falsehood. They're innocent. That's the "I believe so it must be true" Trump stuff. Heck his fave is that those who've been the most discriminated and segregated against in history are the most racist.

BuckeyeDuck

BTW 64363, good comment and with proof no less.

We're now in a weird world of the orange headed grifter believers who believe anything, and if they BELIEVE IT, then it must be the truth, particularly if spouted by him.

Belief does not make truth

Evidence makes truth, and belief does not make evidence

Beliefs are not truth no matter how much you might want them to be

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