The Paradise Valley Unified School District Superintendent, Jesse Welsh resigned yesterday (December 7, 2020.)

No official reason has been given for the resignation.

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Many suspect the cause for Mr. Welsh relinquishing his position was the continued harassment by district parents because they were unhappy with Paradise Valley Schools reverting to virtual learning after the area saw a surge in COVID 19 cases.

Some of these “stalwarts” of the community thought it was a good idea to clutter Dr. Welsh’s yard with signs, demanding schools be reopened. Another group posted the addresses of where the Superintendent and other Governing School Board members lived.

As one Paradise Valley resident and parent said in an ABC News 15 accounting of the events:

“It’s sad there are some people who think it’s okay to act this way.” 

The same person also said that these parents were not behaving like good role models for their children.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.

According to reporting from Lily Altavena of AZ Central:

“Steven Chapman, president of the executive board of the Arizona School Boards Association, said in some school districts in metro Phoenix, board members and superintendents are receiving hateful emails. The vitriol, he said, is a symptom of communities divided politically over how to make decisions over the pandemic.”

One Chandler School Board Member, Lindsay Love received death threats partially because of her stance on reopening schools. She and her family had to receive extra security to protect them.

Creighton School Board President Jeanne Casteen, the 2020 Democratic Nominee for Maricopa County School Superintendent, also received hostile emails.

Reaction to Threats Against School Superintendents and Board Members. 

With regards to the events in Paradise Valley, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman posted on social media:

She later tweeted:

On what happened to her, Chandler Board Member Lindsay Love, responding to a question for this article, wrote:

“So a lot of this harassment was from this summer around our reopening plans and my stances on equity. I’m the only black woman on my board so a lot of the harassment was sexist, racist, and fatphobic. I also am a supporter of comprehensive medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education, so I got labeled as a sexual deviant trying to sexualize their kids and indoctrinate them in Marxism.”

“CUSD remains open so far so many of the parent’s groups from this summer have died down a bit because they got what they wanted. However, we do have upset parents on the other side who want us to move towards full virtual as the dashboard suggests. They are not as threatening as these groups centered around reopening because these groups have links to known agitators in educational and political spaces such as Purple for Parents, AZ Patriot Movement, Qanon, and Tea Party groups. These groups have always been centered on dismantling public education and so these reopening groups used some of the aggressive campaigns these agitators are known for such as: Posting board members addresses online, death threats, mass pulling out of kids from the district, and enrolling at Charter schools, showing up to board meetings to protest with loud whistles and cowbells. They’ve been emboldened because the board essentially gave into their demands. Now they know that they can use the same tactic for every issue moving forward such as sex ed, equity programs, increased SRO presence, and reductions of social workers and school counselors.”

“It seems to be that this is more than just schools reopening during a pandemic. This is about fighting to make sure some folks remain cemented at the top while others remain at the bottom.”

Jeanne Casteen, in response to follow-up questions for this article, commented that hostile communications toward her have recently decreased.

Two newly elected Governing School Board Members also offered their perspectives on these troubling events.

Sarah Lindsay James of the Tempe Union High School District wrote:

“Dr. Jesse Welsh resigned from his position as Paradise Valley Superintendent because of the constant threats he and his family have been receiving. His district went back to virtual in order to keep staff and students safe, and for that, he was so harassed that he resigned. Like Dr. Welsh, school board members throughout Arizona have also received death threats over decisions they have made in order to protect their communities. Dealing with a pandemic is something we should be leaving to experts, and ideally, we would have guidance from the federal and state government. Unfortunately, that leadership is lacking, so school board members and school districts have to seek out help and engage with experts to guide them through the impossible task of fitting 2019 schooling into a 2020 package.”

“While districts and school boards now have the job of interpreting metrics with scientists and medical professionals, their obligation to the community is transparency. It is vital that they share the data and decision-making process with the community so they can understand the scenarios and the reasons behind district decisions. In turn, the community needs to respect the process and the experts involved. Unfortunately, this pandemic and the science surrounding it have been so politicized that experts are no longer respected and science is something one can choose to believe (or not). I am sure the districts making the tough choices to keep staff and students safe will continue to receive backlash, but I sincerely hope they are able to continue to do what is right based on science and the advice of experts despite the threats and verbal abuse.”

Jeff Fortney of Cave Creek Unified School District relayed:

“As far as a “sign of our time” items go, this harassment, intimidation, and threatening of people that don’t agree with one’s way of thinking is a truly sad, pathetic and scary one. I remember reading about this issue a few years ago when an Atlantic report, writing about some of the underhanded things going on in the White House, was targeted. He was reporting on decisions being made at that time. Soon, he was being attacked online. His wife was the subject of frightening sexual threats. He received pictures of his children superimposed in gas chambers. How someone doing their job could be subjected to this was beyond anything I’d ever heard.”

“But now it is a constant and everyday thing. Groups that feel they MUST get THEIR way are attacking people who do not agree. This is pitiful. That it is no longer shocking is equally pitiful. It has become sadly routine. After the election in November, election officials – including our own Secretary of State Katie Hobbs – have been targeted. So, it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that it is coming down the way to school superintendents and school board members. Thanks to lack of leadership on the very divisive issue of COVID-19 school openings/closings, our Governor has passed the death threats and harassment down to the local levels. Why should he subject himself to this when a Paradise Valley superintendent or a Chandler school board member can be targeted? In passing this idea of “local control” down to school boards, he has also passed an incredible responsibility to unpaid volunteers on school boards that NEVER thought they would be put in “life or death” decision positions. Decisions that are guaranteed to upset some portion of a constituency.”

“I have recently had the great honor of being elected to the Cave Creek Unified school board. In the past year, I’ve seen myself, other school board members, and the current superintendent attacked by anonymous – fake – Facebook profiles. These same fake profiles have attacked private citizens with straight-up lies. I have absolutely zero doubt that these same forces will be out and attacking anything they don’t like. I have listened to both sides of the closure issue and can see that come January when I take office, there will be a time when it’s going to come up again. So, can I expect harassment, attacks, and death threats to me and my family? Time will tell. But given the current state of our nation, state, community… I’m not encouraged. Civil discourse – with its inherent agreements/disagreements – has gone by the wayside. People now feel free – and even fortified and entitled – to attack. There is nothing in-between anymore. It is ALL about intimidation. Intimidating those currently faced with tough decisions… and sending a very clear and dangerous message to others in similar positions – “You defy us… you’re the next target.”

“Without community outrage when this happens (like the very nice FB petition being circulated to support the PV superintendent), without legal prosecution with names named, there is no reason for hateful, hate-filled people to stop doing this. I hope people in power take this seriously and react forcefully and swiftly. It’s up to The People to shout this hate down. It’s up to people in positions of power to state that it is unacceptable and will be prosecuted. Or else… nothing changes and good people will not put themselves in potentially dangerous positions.”

Moving Forward

School Board Members deserve respect, not threats.

As Ms. Love and Mr. Fortney have reminded the readers, fringe elements like those who are harassing school board members because of school closures have made their presence known, for decades, at governing board meetings in Arizona and across the country on other issues like sex education, equity for all student groups, science and history curriculum matters, and school dress codes.

There is nothing wrong with a vigorous debate on the issues facing schools and their stakeholders but threats and harassment are never acceptable.

The great majority of school board members and Superintendents want what is best for the children, the educators, and the local community.

They work very hard to provide a safe environment and provide quality education to children.

They deserve praise, not condemnation.

Like Superintendent Hoffman said in one of her posts:

“It is never acceptable to harass or intimidate others with whom you disagree.”

Like the Paradise Valley Parent alluded to ABC News 15 when commenting on what happened to Superintendent Welsh. Children need their parents to be positive role models. Harassing School Superintendents and Governing Board members are not examples of accomplishing that.

These fringe group members need to stop festering and being part of the problem.

They need to, if they can, act responsibly, engage as productive community members, and become part of the solution.

 

 

 

 

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