Siuslaw School Board meeting draws large crowd

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Attendees divided on ‘Sanctuary’ issue, which was not an agenda item

The April 12 Siuslaw School District Board meeting convened precisely at 6:30 p.m. to a full house. The meeting had been moved from the district’s main office to the library of the Siuslaw Elementary School to accommodate the expected crowd, which was much larger than normal.

Most of the nearly 100 individuals in attendance were not students or parents of current students. They were community members that were on hand should the board consider adopting a new form of official “Sanctuary” policy.

Those in attendance were concerned how any new regulation adopted might supercede or replace current state and federal policies governing the district.

While the discussion of these and other hot-button topics continued among the attendees before Thursday’s board meeting, the issue of “Sanctuary” was not on the board’s agenda.

When asked about the crowd and the unexpected interest in what normally would be a routine meeting, Siuslaw Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak said, “There is a lot of confusion about what schools could or could not do with regards to law enforcement and/or immigration officials in the general public. That led to my opening statement in hopes to clarify the legal issues and quell the rumors that may have been fueled by incorrect assumption and speculation.”

Grzeskowiak went on to explain that many of the issues raised have to do with either state or federal level issues, far beyond the reach of a school district.

The issue of “Sanctuary” status, and the ramifications of a recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Florence, had also been the subject of heated exchanges at a recent Florence City Council meeting.

The majority of spectators were affiliated with two local social service groups, one being the Band of Brothers, and the second was the recently formed group Florence ORganizers.

These groups have very different perspectives on the issue.

The Band of Brothers is a local group of veterans that helps fund and organizes action on volunteer projects at the School District, and other nonprofits in town.

The Florence ORganizers formed after the local Women’s March and the inauguration of President Donald Trump last January.

The residual feelings of the latest election cycle were clearly the underlying motivator for the interest in the topic of “sanctuary,” as “Make America Great Again,” hats and “Protect our Children” stickers were prominently displayed.

After the introduction of the district’s Student of the Month, Jacob Foskett, who led the Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting began.

The entire audience stood together to say the pledge.

Grzeskowiak read from a lengthy prepared statement which detailed the legal and moral responsibilities of the educators and administrative staff of the district.

The message to the assemblage was clear: there would be no new policy regarding the district’s position on the issue of sanctuary status as the protocols regarding the issue were long standing, court tested, higher in authority and moral in nature.

Across the room, the sign-in sheet for the opportunity to participate in the public discussion time at the meeting required two full pages to accommodate those wanting to speak.

“It was very interesting to hear the comments from the public. People on both sides of the issue had some strong feelings on the issue, and most stayed on topic and addressed the Board of Directors,” Grzeskowiak said. “A few veered off track and seemed to be addressing the persons holding the opposite view in the gallery. With that, there was some back and forth in the gallery, but it was hard to discern the exact exchanges up at the front table.”

However, the board had a full agenda of other items to consider.

The district’s pending budget for the next fiscal year was the primary reason for the special session that preceded the evening’s regular meeting.

Two new Budget committee members, Margie Nemcik-Cruz and John Stead, were appointed.

Then, District Business Manager Kari Blake presented the proposed budget to the Budget Committee and the board. After a brief discussion, the budget was accepted and the first part of the meeting was adjourned.

When asked what message Grzeskowiak would like the community to take away from the meeting, he said, “Current law and policy will be our guidelines to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for students in our district. We will continue to reaffirm those informational pieces for the public and continue the training efforts to clarify policy and operations for staff that was started back in February.”

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