After a return to in-person meetings, school board directors from Bend-La Pine Schools will host listening sessions to meet with the community members in a less formal setting than a typical board meeting, where public comment must be directly related to an agenda item. The first will take place on Thursday, July 29 from 5:30-7:30 pm in the Silver Rail Elementary School gymnasium, and will be hosted by Board Chair Melissa Barnes Dholakia and Vice-Chair Marcus LeGrand.
The first regular meeting was more contentious than what's typical for a school board. Over 100 protestors attended to oppose the selective masking of non-vaccinated students, masking students in general and the teaching of critical race theory. The audience was at times rambunctious, often applauding speakers who shared their beliefs and at one point demanding board members remove their masks. The board decided to continue fully masking students during summer school but the policy for the fall semester is still being determined.
- Courtesy Bend La Pine School District
Local Republicans cried foul after the board's first meeting, when most of the school board was pictured without masks at an outdoor party.
"July 13 marked our return to in-person board meetings, following more than a year of virtual engagement," Dholakia said in a statement. "The volume of interest by our stakeholders to share their thoughts, concerns, and kudos—in person—is remarkable. It is our hope that this listening session, which includes a large venue, evening start and opportunity for conversation, will be convenient for potential participants and provide an environment for us to learn more from our parents, staff, students and community members."
Several board members echoed this sentiment at the board meeting, where they spoke about their willingness to hear criticism but stressed that arguments need to be formed in good faith and that both sides need to be willing to compromise.
"We are all sitting here at this table to listen to voices that are in the room and sometimes that can conflict with our own personal belief and our own personal identification of who we are, what our moral ground stands on," Zone 7 board member Janet Sarai Llerandi Gonzalez said. "My advice to all of you folks who continue to show up in support of your passions is to come in with an open mind and come in with the spirit of engaging rather than telling so that we can have honest conversations and that we can discuss the actual issues at hand."
People can sign up to speak at the forum on the BLP Schools website. The listening sessions are intended to be a continuing program, though only the one is scheduled at this time.