Parent Calls SLC School Board Emails ‘Unprofessional’ & ‘Unethical’
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A parent in the Salt Lake City School District said emails she discovered between school board members are “unprofessional” and “unethical,” and one board member called for three fellow members to resign.
During a meeting Tuesday night, parents who live in the district weighed in on dysfunction within the board.
“We have seen mistrust and divide within this board,” Molly Pearce, mother of six, said during the public comment period during Tuesday’s meeting. “I am disgusted. I ask that those of you who can’t act like dignified adults, resign.”
It has been an interesting school year with the pandemic and the resulting debates in districts over how to return to school: in-person instruction, online instruction or a hybrid system.
Parents, students, teachers and administrators have an opinion, and each side is passionate. Caught in the middle of it all are the school boards.
No matter what, though, parents said a school board is supposed to stay professional.
“This is about our kids and education,” said Raina Williams, who has five children in the Salt Lake City School District.
Williams thought Salt Lake City Schools were going to a hybrid model at the beginning of the school year.
She had been paying attention to board meetings.
When the Salt Lake City School Board voted for all-virtual classes, she said it surprised her and many of her friends.
“They decided to go 100% virtual and got six out of seven votes,” Williams said. So, I felt like, what did I miss?”
Williams filed a public records request asking for board members’ texts and emails to see what was being discussed.
“I wanted to know what the reasoning behind their decision was. I was wondering if something was happening behind the scenes or maybe I just missed it,” she said.
When Williams got back more than 200 pages of messages, though, she couldn’t believe what she read.
“In a lot of them are personal attacks,” said Williams. “They were completely unprofessional and unethical.”
In one text message from board member Katherine Kennedy to board president Melissa Ford, Kennedy cursed out Ford and said she can never be trusted again because a meeting was going long.
Williams said that’s about as unprofessional as it gets.
“They’re making decisions for 21,000 kids, and that’s what scares me,” said Williams. “It’s horrible for our kids and it’s a horrible example.”
In other emails, some board members badmouthed parents and said, “They don’t understand the process.”
One from Kennedy said, “Some members of the Salt Lake community seem to have forgotten that we are in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Other emails attacked West High School’s principal, saying, “He has never been on the district’s team as most other principals are.”
Some emails even separated board members. One said, “I have not bothered to send it to Mr. Nemelka, since I doubt he will be receptive.”
Mr. Nemelka is Michael Nemelka, a Salt Lake City School Board member who was left off a lot of the email discussions about students and classes.
“I didn’t realize it was as bad as it was in some cases,” said Nemelka. “I had no idea they were emailing all of this to each other.”
Nemelka wondered if open meeting laws were violated with official business being discussed behind the scenes.
“I think three of the board members should just resign. I don’t think there’s another way they can get around what they did,” said Nemelka. “It is embarrassing. We are the joke of the whole state, this school board right now.”
Joke or not, Williams said this attitude among some board members has been going on for too long.
“They have been able to do whatever they want without any accountability,” she said.
KSL sent messages to all seven Salt Lake City School Board members.
Besides Nemelka, we also heard from Nate Salazar and a representative of board president Melissa Ford, but they only said they won’t comment.
Williams feels now, more than ever, professionalism, ethics and accountability should count.
“I hope something comes of this,” she said.
Fifteen minutes were allowed for public comment during Tuesday’s virtual board meeting. 16 people wanted to speak — only five were allowed before time expired.
“This type of behavior would never fly at my work,” said parent Chris Hatch. “It’s time to pivot. It’s time to take your personal agenda items far away from here.”
There was no mention of the emails and texts retrieved from the public records request. A closed-door meeting was held prior to the board meeting. On the agenda, it listed litigation and talk of character would be addressed behind closed doors.
Board members talked extensively about how to help children thrive during virtual learning. Teachers shared their thoughts.
Data shared during the meeting showed SLCSD’s enrollment falling — this year, the district has lost 1,500 students. That’s equivalent to 55 teaching jobs.
“Is it just COVID? People keep saying the children will come back to school,” said Kristi Swett, Precinct 7 board member. “Wonder if they don’t? I am concerned. I’ve never seen a dip like this.“
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