The debate over whether and how to reopen classrooms in Oregon reached one of its ugliest points this week when a person posted a comment on the Beaverton School District’s Facebook page advocating possible violence toward teachers.
The comment by a user identified on Facebook as “Jenny Taylor” laid out what it called a “simple solution” that “bored and angry high school students” be given teachers’ addresses — and baseball bats.
Beaverton is one of Oregon’s largest school districts, but like Portland Public Schools next door, it has very few students receiving in-person instruction through what the district calls Limited In-Person Instruction, or LIPI. In debates in numerous social media groups, parents and teachers discuss and question the complexities and concerns around expanding in-person learning. The debates can get heated.
In this most recent incident in Beaverton, after deleting the comment and banning the user from its Facebook page, Beaverton School District officials posted a lengthy statement decrying the negativity online.
“[T]he comments here have increasingly become divisive, demeaning and downright toxic,” the BSD statement said. “Despite the very best efforts of this account’s moderators, constructive and valuable discourse has too often spiraled into uncivil and unfounded attacks.”
District leaders went on to call for community members to “exercise kindness, empathy and grace toward one another.” The statement pushed against negative characterizations of school staff, emphasizing that the district’s employees are also parents and “humans who read the comments here.”
“To suggest that any of those humans — administrators, principals, teachers, support staff, nutrition service workers, custodians or any of the thousands of employees in the district — are lazily sitting at home and simply collecting a paycheck is blatantly untrue,” the district said. The statement argued instead that each employee “deeply cares” and that staff has been “working tirelessly.”
By late Thursday, the district statement had attracted more than 200 comments, the vast majority of them supportive of district employees.
But the district’s teachers union, the Beaverton Education Association, responded with ambivalence. On one hand, union officials expressed appreciation at “the swift action taken yesterday to remove a post on the Beaverton School District Facebook page that threatened violence against district employees.” But it also argued district administrators had let the Facebook page get out of hand.
“It’s disappointing that the district has let the rhetoric on its Facebook page reach this point and it’s upsetting to educators to read this negativity on a page that is moderated by our employer,” according to a statement emailed to OPB by union president Sara Schmitt.
BSD officials are defending their use of Facebook and other social media as “open forums.”
“We don’t discourage the exchange of differing opinions or even criticism of the District [...] as long as they do so without violating our stated Facebook policy,” BSD said in an email sent by public communications officer Shellie Bailey-Shah. “When users step over the line and violate that policy, we delete comments and either warn or ban the authors from future posting.”
The underlying issue of whether to reopen schools continues to move slowly toward more in-person instruction. It’s moving too slowly for many parents and for Gov. Kate Brown, who continued to press school districts to open on Thursday.
According to the latest data from the state’s education department, more than 130,000 students received some level of in-person instruction through the first week of February. However, that still leaves about 80% of Oregon students in distance learning, including the overwhelming majority of students in Oregon’s largest districts, such as Beaverton and Portland Public Schools.
Editor’s Note: The response provided by Shellie Bailey-Shah of the Beaverton School District was added after this story originally published early Friday morning.