Deeply. Unserious. Boardsmanship.
All Things Terrible in Paradise Valley
Well, well, well, Secular Fam, I wish I could say that we’ve eradicated All Things Terrible from our local Arizona school boards, but you’re reading this, so no such luck! Last week, the Paradise Valley (PVUSD) meeting took place, and it was yet another example of deeply unserious boardsmanship and community engagement. So much for high hopes.
The meeting opened as most do: Student performance, Pledge, moment of silence, and then board member comments. Board Member Pantera talked about his wife’s first 5K race and school visits, Board Member Greenberg gave a similar update, and then MAGA Mama and Young Living
snake oil Essential Oil multi-level marketer, Sandra Christensen was up next. And right out the gate, Secular Fam, things got…weird…
She opened with comments about antisemitism and referred to scripture - WITHOUT SAYING IT OUT LOUD (I’m looking at you, Heather Rooks) that has helped her get through the last month of conflict in the Middle East. Next, she alluded to an investigation about a teacher/assistant coach in the district who was accused of inappropriate conduct with a female student in the district.
She then said that the district advocated for due process of the accused (as it should - read US Congressman, Jeremy Raskin’s statement on voting AGAINST expelling US Rep George Santos here), and then went on to share that the teacher had apparently taken her own life.
So let’s break this down since it’s a terrible and confusing story. From what I could gather, this teacher/coach was accused of an inappropriate relationship with a student. This is terrible, full stop. No one in a position of power in any scenario should ever, EVER prey upon someone in a subordinate position, especially when they are a minor.
It seems that after an investigation was opened, staff and board members were instructed to allow local law enforcement to conduct an investigation. This is called due process. It’s normal and in no way a nefarious cover up. It allows for an investigation to be conducted and helps all parties involved avoid legal peril. Due process is a good thing, and separates us from other forms of government where a person’s guilt or innocence can be determined by whoever is in charge, and without any proof needed.
Ms. Christensen was angry that when the district alerted parents and community members of the death of this staff member, they didn’t mention the investigation into the allegations against her (but from what I could gather, this was at the direction of the Phoenix Police Department).
Look folks, this whole situation is awful. AWFUL. Once upon a time, I was a board member, and it's not fun when you get that email or phone call letting you know that a staff member in the district you serve is under investigation. It’s terrible to even contemplate the potential harm that may have been committed against students in the district.
As a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), I know how these stories can be triggering. They elicit feelings of anger, sadness, and helplessness. But everyone - from the local school teacher, to the youth pastor, to the 45th president of the United States - is entitled DUE PROCESS.
If every board member took every complaint to the school district board meetings or their Facebook pages, before the accused had their due process, not only could they wrongly accuse someone and/or open themselves up to a defamation lawsuit (as we’ve seen in another local district). Worse, they could undermine an investigation and hinder justice being served.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: board members need to stay in their lane.
I’m angry thinking about anyone who preys on our children, but until there is a full investigation, school board members’ hands are tied, and they must allow local law enforcement agencies and the courts do their jobs. I’ve noticed this trend over the past few years where educators’ reputations have been dragged through the mud during public board meetings, and entire careers end, despite formal investigations that indicate no wrong-doing.
Board Member Baker was definitely caught off guard by this report, and essentially said that she didn’t have much to say about Board Member Christensen’s comments.
Next up was staff celebrations, as well as a celebration of all the schools that received “A” and “B” ratings. For the record, I kind of hate school letter grades and the fact that Arizona public school funding favors those with high grades, but since the ultra MAGA deplorables are always whining about our “failing public schools” hopefully this will shut them up (but I doubt it will).
You may recall that PVUSD recently voted to move public comments to AFTER anything requiring a vote, so since two items were pulled from the Consent Agenda, the next item up for a vote was item G.1.: “Consideration and adoption of a Resolution regarding the recent Executive Director appointment process conducted by the Arizona School Boards Association [ASBA] Executive Board.”
For those of you who may not know, the current Executive Director for ASBA, Devin Del Palacio, has attracted some attention because it seems he may have falsified his CV to get the job. Recently, a group of former ASBA past presidents put out a statement opposing his candidacy for this position.
A woman named Lily was up to the lectern to speak about this agenda item and basically said that this scandal hurts the credibility of ASBA and members of ASBA should question their membership with the organization. I don’t know enough about the details of this case, but what Lily said made sense. You can learn more about this story here. If it’s true that the new ED falsified his CV, I agree that this isn’t a good look for ASBA, and has the potential to hurt them and any of their members.
Board Member Christensen agreed with the speaker, and was upset that at a recent ASBA function, attendees were making fun of
crypt keeper Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne. She said that ASBA was “biased” and “partisan” which in Purple 4 Parents-speak seems to mean “pro kids” and “pro public education.”
The rest of the board gave their comments, and the resolution passed unanimously.
Next up, there was a vote to approve the purchase of new buses, and another to approve gifts and donations, and both passed unanimously.
At this point, any members of the public who wanted to address items pulled from the Consent Agenda were able to do so, and Lily was back up wondering about a couple of items (F.8 & F.9). These items had to do with a student discipline issue, and AGAIN, this is why due process is important. In Arizona, expelling a student in Arizona is a big deal, and if it happens, other public districts do not have to enroll that student. School boards rarely approve expulsions for this reason, and the details of these cases are strictly confidential.
Board comments were up next. This is where anyone can come up to say just about anything they want (within reason, of course). First up was a long-time resident and parent in the district who basically lavished praise on everyone in the district, and can we maybe have more of this at our meetings, please?
Next up was Lily (again) and this time she wanted to talk about ethics (again) and then asked what happens next with the ASBA resolution. I’m unsure why she continued to comment on an agenda item that was already unanimously approved, but these things no longer surprise me.
What does surprise me is how so many of the same people who are upset about ASBA leadership and accountability probably support private school vouchers and microschools. Private schools and homeschoolers do not have to answer to anyone. They do not have to test children, do not have to get feedback from the community about curriculum, and do not have to accept all students who want to attend their schools.
Moving on, the next commenter showered praise on Board Member Christensen and disparaged Board Member Baker, and I found myself once again wishing that school board presidents would gavel or that ANY board member would call a point of order when an individual board member is being attacked. She accused the curriculum team of not doing their jobs because she’s a self-proclaimed expert on curriculum adoption.
Next up was another PVUSD regular who was mad that needs of marginalized students are priorities in PVUSD, and wanted the teacher who unalived herself to be posthumously branded a sexual predator. He complained about how the district handled it, but as far as I can tell, they handled it exactly the way they were advised to by the Phoenix Police Department (PPD). Additionally, they directed all inquiries to PPD in a letter shared with parents.
So what do the “back the blue” folks want here? The message is always confusing. Cops who murdered George Floyd: good. Cops who tried to stop an insurrection at our nation’s capital: bad. Cops who advise folks to reach out to PPD about an investigation: ignore, and complain loudly at the board meeting instead.
Another regular was next and she seems to see pornography in everything, so she just wanted to remind everyone of that. Thanks?
She was also mad that the board followed the guidance of the PPD regarding the allegations of misconduct of the HS teacher and coach mentioned above, and essentially said that due process shouldn’t be a thing.
You know who doesn’t have to guarantee an individual’s right to due process? Authoritarian regimes, that’s who. These people have such dangerous kinks.
Next up was a teacher from the district who wanted to share only positive things about PVUSD, and I really like seeing so many pro-public education people speak out at their board meetings. *hint hint*
After this, a parent who fully shared the identity of her six-year-old child who has special needs, accused a guest teacher, by name, of abusing her son, by name. I was blown away by the fact that board members (and especially President Case) didn’t stop this parent. Like, it sounded like she may have had a legitimate complaint, but to assert that a teacher is abusive by name in a public meeting just sets the district up for a lawsuit, and will complicate any investigation into that teacher.
I’m sitting here typing this up and trying to be funny, but really, all I feel is despair. Just last week, Congressman Gaetz spoke in favor of defunding the DOJ and FBI if they don’t stand up for “[his] people.”
And just who are his people?
Oh brother…up next was 🧻TPUSA Operative and Anthony Kern fangirl, Tiffany Benson. She had a lot to say about pedophiles and groomers in schools, also complained about due process, and then promoted the 🧻TPUSA website that targets school boards across the country because she’s tOtAlLy sErIoUs about caring about kids.
After her, a couple of teachers once again showered praise on our public schools and educators (MORE OF THIS PLEASE), and then we were on to the very long, very boring, very standard, and very normal first readings of SEVERAL policy updates. There were eighteen separate policy updates getting a first reading, and typically, board members can request clarification of any of these policy updates via email or during their weekly meetings with the superintendent.
Of course, members of the public may speak about these agenda items, and on the night of this meeting, it seems that Lily (see above) was designated to speak about ALL these policy updates. After the first item, Board Member Greenberg reminded everyone that these are standard updates to existing policy and have been updated to reflect policy changes implemented by the Arizona State Legislature during the 2023 legislative session.
Lily was concerned about conflict of interest policies.
Lily was concerned about substitute teacher hiring practices and pay rate.
Lily was concerned about certification requirements of substitute teachers.
Lily was concerned about curriculum adoption.
Lily was concerned about the state legislature creating contradictory policies that school boards are required to adopt (SAME, Lily, and at this point, Board Member Greenberg encouraged Lily to reach out to her state legislators who changed state statute).
Lily was concerned about administering medicine to students.
At this point, I wondered if Lily had ever heard of email before, and if so, was she just trolling us all in order to make the meeting last about an hour longer than it should have? Or does Lily have a secret desire to be the board president? Because it was clear that she was running this meeting.
During the last item, in which she was questioning every single line in a policy about administering medicine to students, I started just feeling kinda bummed. Like, school board meetings are the heart of our democracy, and in many places throughout the country, they’ve become a joke, oftentimes resembling a Saturday Night Live sketch.
School boards make important decisions at every meeting. They approve budgets, they approve staff contracts, they hire superintendents, and they make decisions about safety. When school boards collaborate and focus on the mission and vision of the district they serve, they can implement super-cool policies like free breakfast and lunch for all students, all-day Kindergarten, or universal pre-K programs.
You know, I try to poke fun and make light of what’s happening at our public school board meetings here in Arizona, but it’s getting harder. At this meeting, an active board member advocated for doing away with due process and ignored an active police investigation so that she could sow distrust among her followers. And she didn’t just do it at the public meeting; she continued to loudly disparage the district she serves on her Xitter account.
You know, a couple of years ago, a Facebook group called the “Paradise Valley USD Taxpayers” chased out the former PVUSD superintendent during COVID-19, who cited threats to his family as one of the reasons for leaving. Ironically, these “concerned taxpayers” cost the taxpayers of PVUSD about $400,000 to payout his severance. They’ve since taken to attacking Board Member Baker and encouraging voters to vote no on this year’s bond/override.
These days, making light of the existential dread that seems to surround us can be therapeutic, but once again, I’m not laughing.
So I guess I’ll just cut to the chase and say that if we are not working every day to combat these people at every level of government, this new “normal” may just become our permanent normal.
Til next time…