Dave Brown says “let’s just talk.” Here’s what it’s like to try.

It has been both distressing and disturbing how often in the past 6 months Newberg Public Schools have been in the local and national news. In May, a far right majority was elected to our school board. In June, they took office. Their first actions? To ban Black Lives Matter and Pride flags and to rescind the Anti-Racism Policy established by the board the year prior. When the BLM and Pride flag ban failed to pass muster as constitutional, the board majority changed it to a ban of all “political, quasi-political, and controversial” symbols other than the U.S. and Oregon flags. “Political, quasi-political, and controversial” to be defined by themselves on a case-by-case basis. That move alone cost the district tens of thousands of dollars in rescinded academic and athletic grants and attorney and lawsuit costs.

Then they fired our excellent superintendent for “no cause.” In addition to throwing the district into chaos and the loss of staff who are fleeing for other districts, this move will cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy out the superintendent’s contract and recruit and hire someone new.

It is an understatement to say our school district is in crisis. And throughout it all, the board majority maintains they are simply trying to “get politics out of schools” and rid us of “indoctrination” and thwart the “extreme left” attempt to take over. Which is baffling since the school board previously acted as prescribed, in a NONpartisan manner. And is particularly ironic considering that the board majority members are refusing to speak to their actual constituents while simulaneously making themselves available to speak at anti-masking rallies, with anti-public-school podcasts, and with far right radio hosts. What’s this about politics in schools? And WHO exactly brought them in?

So here we are, six months into this bizarro alternate reality, and we’re trying to recall the two board members who’ve led us into this disaster, Dave Brown and Brian Shannon. And now that the recall election is mere days away, the number of lies and misdirections coming from their side is overwhelming. Honestly, it’s an effective tactic straight from the Trump playbook. If you lie often enough, slyly enough, and with enough conviction, making sure to never give air time to your opponents, folks who are otherwise well-intentioned will believe you. 

I don’t have the time or the bandwidth to unravel all the lies. They are legion. But I will tackle one here and now, and it’s this… Board Chair, Dave Brown, who is the representative for my portion of the district, has stated in his interviews and speaking events that folks just need to TALK to him. Just have a conversation. Just sit down and chat over a cup of coffee, and maybe we could work out our differences. Which sounds reasonable, right?? Like, what’s wrong with us that we can’t talk to folks with different opinions anymore? But what Director Brown fails to mention is the dozens upon dozens of people who have tried AT LENGTH to do exactly that. To have a conversation. To dialogue. To correspond. To listen. Only to be lied to, shut down, and ultimately ignored.

I’ve decided to release my attempt to converse with Director Brown from 2020 to provide an example. On June 23, 2020, Director Brown was the lone “no” vote on the district’s Anti-Racism Policy (copied here so you can read the text for yourself.)

As Director Brown’s constituent, I was deeply disturbed by the no vote, particularly because it came without an explanation. So I emailed the full board to ask for one. 

I’m releasing our emails in their entirety below, but a brief timeline of my attempt to dialogue with Director Brown is as follows:

June 23, 2020: I asked for an explanation, emailing the full board.

June 24, 2020: Director Penner (Board Chair at the time) emailed me back, copying the full board. She explained their anti-racism efforts and offered to meet to discuss further.

June 24, 2020: I emailed Director Penner back, expressing my concern that Director Brown’s no-vote would undermine our community’s confidence that an anti-racist school district is possible. I reiterated that, as his constituent, he was not representing me well, and that I would wait to hear from him for an explanation.

June 24, 2020: Director Penner emailed again, copying the full board, agreeing it was best to hear directly from Director Brown about his reasons for his no vote.

June 26, 2020: I emailed Director Penner and copied Director Brown to ask whether there was any board policy or understanding that board members respond to their constituents. I reiterated that I wanted to hear from Director Brown and listen to what he had to say but he was giving me nothing to listen to.

June 26, 2020: Director Penner emailed to say she had a meeting and would get back to me shortly. She emailed later the same day to note that there was no board policy to compell a board member to respond to constituents. She noted that she, along with other board members and the superintendent, had also reached out to Director Brown, and that he had not responded to them, either.

June 26, 2020: I emailed Director Penner to thank her.

June 28, 2020: Director Brown responded to me to say a) he was waiting on district “leadership” to communicate with him before he could respond, b) that “school members” do not engage in Facebook chats about school board matters, and c) he was unable to give his statement when he voted no due to computer problems.

June 28, 2020: I responded to Director Brown noting that I was not requesting a Facebook response, that other board members do engage in Facebook conversations about board matters, that Director Penner had already told me I should hear from Director Brown directly so I wasn’t sure what communication from “leadership” he was waiing on, and suggested several ways to make his statement that would bypass technological difficulties in the future. I reiterated that I wanted an explanation for the no vote. 

[I want to be clear here that there is NO policy or understanding that school board members do not engage on Facebook and that “leadership” had already communicated to Director Brown that he could respond to constituents directly. Neither of his assertions otherwise were truthful.]

June 29, 2020: I emailed Director Penner, copying Director Brown, just to be absolutely SURE there was no misunderstanding on his part, and that he is, in fact, allowed to communicate with his constituents.

June 29, 2020: Director Penner replied, copying Director Brown and all board members, that she and other board members had communicated with Director Brown and that he was aware that he had every right and responsibility to communicate with constituents. 

July 7, 2020: I emailed Director Brown again, copying Director Penner, asking for a response again and expressing my frustration and disappointment that he was not providing his constituents with attention or communication. 

I never received a reply from Director Brown.

On July 9, 2020, at a special school board meeting to hear from the public, Director Brown finally read a statement to explain his no vote. You can see it by clicking here, along with my in-line response.

To sum up, I sent three emails before receiving a reply from Director Brown. When he replied, it was with three excuses for why he could not communicate with me, two of which were not true. I emailed three additional times and received only silence. 

So perhaps you can understand my frustration and disappointment when Director Brown is willing to speak with outside groups who are politically affiliated and, while doing so, says he wishes his constituents would just be willing to chat with him about our differences. I’ve tried, Dave. On repeat. And dozens more folks have stories strikingly similar to mine. 

I can understand–truly–why people are sympathetic to Director Brown when he seems to so reasonably request civil dialogue. Perhaps this will shed light on the reality, however, that he’s not willing to communicate, after all.

Vote YES to Recall Dave Brown and YES to Recall Brian Shannon. Our district deserves better.

 

 

 

Here is our correspondence in its entirety.

Subject: No Vote on Anti-racism Resolution

From: Beth Woolsey
To: All Newberg School Board Members
June 23, 2020

Dear Board Members, 

I was thrilled the NPS Board tonight approved an anti-racism resolution. As the mother of two children of color who’ve attended Newberg Public Schools for the entirety of their education and who have experienced racism there, it’s critically important to them and to me to see our leadership take a clear and firm stand against racism. 

I was also dismayed that Dave Brown voted against the resolution. Our community deserves an explanation for the no vote, as it deserves to have representation unanimously united against racial bigotry and discrimination. If Dave cannot provide anti-racist leadership, the community deserves to know that, too, so we can take appropriate action for better representation. 

Looking forward to your response. 

Beth Woolsey

 

From: Brandy Penner 
To: Beth Woolsey
Cc: Joe Morelock
June 24, 2020

Good Afternoon Beth,

Thank you for reaching out with your support and concerns. I am proud of the work that went into creating the resolution and I am proud to be serving on a board that is passionate about addressing racism in our system and creating systemic change. 

I’m not sure if you were at the previous board meeting but we also spent time addressing systematic oppression and racism. During our board comment time we had several board members specifically call for a focus and commitment to examining our system and acknowledging our roles in supporting a social system that is historically oppressive and racist. We took 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honor of George Floyd and the countless, known and unknown, people of color that have been killed, assaulted and harassed by police. It was powerful and emotional  

Please know that as an individual I am committed to learning about the experiences of people of color, my role in sustaining and benefiting from a system that is built on oppression and doing better as I know better. This work has to start with the individual reflecting on their own bias and privilege, and I am committed to that work.  It is within this individual growth that I can help lead, as a board member, a district that honestly confronts and reshapes our education system. 

As a board we are in the process of creating our goals for the 20-21 school year. We met this past Saturday for the first of a two part summer board retreat.  We have tentatively agreed upon four goals for the coming school year, one of which is a commitment to becoming an antiracist school board. Action items under that goal include conducting listening sessions with our communities of color, board training in bias and antiracism, and adopting an equity lens that will serve as a tool as we continue our work around policy and governance. This will be a huge effort and it will undoubtedly be difficult and uncomfortable, but I feel passionately that we can not ignore the pain and oppression that students, staff and families face. 

We will be finalizing these goals at our next board retreat on July 11th. I encourage you to attend and stay informed on board happenings, in order to help us shape a school district that actively works to recreate a system that is not built on historical racism and oppression. I ask that you continue to reach out, provide support and suggestions. 

Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like to meet virtually to continue this conversation. 

Thank you again for your time,

Brandy Penner
Newberg School Board of Director 
Chair, Director Zone 2
Oregon School Board Association
Region 13 Director

Newberg School Board Emails: The Board chair responds to emails sent to the full board. School board members only deliberate when gathered as a quorum as outlined in the Public Meeting Law. To assure that board conversations and deliberations do not occur on email, the Board chair will respond on behalf of the Board. All Board members and the Superintendent receive communications that come from the community as well as the response given by the Board chair. All Board members will be blind copied in responses made by the Board chair.

 

From: Beth Woolsey
To: Brandy Penner
Cc: Joe Morelock
June 24, 2020

Thanks so much for your response, Brandy. I really appreciate the time you took for a thoughtful reply.

I question whether a board that can’t unanimously approve an anti-racist resolution will be able to move forward on becoming an anti-racist board. I also realize that the lack of unanimous vote isn’t at all your fault. A board member explicitly voting no on an anti-racism resolution will undoubtedly derail confidence among the community and particularly among the community of color, though. I’m struggling with the best way to address this concern. I live in Dave’s district and he is not representing my family’s interests well. 

For now, I’m waiting to hear back from Dave before trying to figure out what to do next. 

Sincere thanks for your hard work as a board member.

Beth

 

From: Brandy Penner
To: Beth Woolsey
Cc: Joe Morelock 
June 24, 2020

Beth,

I agree with you and I think that it’s best to hear directly from Director Brown regarding his choice to vote no. 

As board chair I always strive to ensure that we have a cohesive board, while respecting individuals. This is always a challenging task on a seven member board, but it remains my goal and I am hopeful that in the difficult work that lays ahead we will continue to grow stronger. 

Again, thank you for your involvement and commitment to helping the district in this vital work.

Brandy Penner
Newberg School Board of Director 
Chair, Director Zone 2
Oregon School Board Association
Region 13 Director

Newberg School Board Emails: The Board chair responds to emails sent to the full board. School board members only deliberate when gathered as a quorum as outlined in the Public Meeting Law. To assure that board conversations and deliberations do not occur on email, the Board chair will respond on behalf of the Board. All Board members and the Superintendent receive communications that come from the community as well as the response given by the Board chair. All Board members will be blind copied in responses made by the Board chair.

 

From: Beth Woolsey
To: Brandy Penner, David Brown 
Cc: Joe Morelock 
June 26, 2020

Hi Brandy,

Is there any board policy or expectation that board members respond to their constituents? I agree with you that it’s best to hear directly from Dave Brown regarding his vote, but he’s not responding to my request for more information, and, as far as I’m aware, he’s not responding to anyone else’s requests or messages, either. He replied to a former tennis player of his on Facebook to say he had comments prepared regarding his no vote at the board meeting but that he wasn’t able to speak due to a technology issue and that he won’t be responding until the next board meeting. I feel strongly that that delay of response is inappropriate given the urgency of this issue in our community (and nation wide), as well as OSBA’s statement yesterday stating school board members “need to be leaders in identifying and eliminating racism,” asking all Oregon school boards to adopt anti-racism resolutions, and that “equity advocates say those statements matter.”

Dave is my district representative. He’s not representing me or my family or people of color appropriately, nor is he responding to messages. He has advocates asking those of us who are concerned to listen to what he has to say. Unfortunately, he’s given us nothing to listen to.

Please let me know if there’s any expectation or policy necessitating a response from him to constituents.

I’ve copied him on this message as I did on my original message, hoping for a reply.

Thank you for your assistance and any information you can offer.

Beth Woolsey

 

From: Brandy Penner 
To: Beth Woolsey
Cc: Joe Morelock 
June 26, 2020

Hi Beth,

I have a couple of appointments this afternoon but I will look into this and get back to you as soon as possible.

Brandy Penner
Newberg School Board of Director 
Chair, Director Zone 2
Oregon School Board Association
Region 13 Director

Newberg School Board Emails: The Board chair responds to emails sent to the full board. School board members only deliberate when gathered as a quorum as outlined in the Public Meeting Law. To assure that board conversations and deliberations do not occur on email, the Board chair will respond on behalf of the Board. All Board members and the Superintendent receive communications that come from the community as well as the response given by the Board chair. All Board members will be blind copied in responses made by the Board chair.

 

From: Brandy Penner
To: Beth Woolsey
Cc: Joe Morelock
June 26, 2020

Good Afternoon Beth,

In looking over our policies and speaking with Dr. Morelock, we do not have a policy regarding specifics on how and when board members respond to constituents. 

Section A/B of the policy governs board operations and governance. Please see the link below for quick access to this section of the policy. 

https://policy.osba.org/newberg/AB/index.asp 

I, several board members, and Dr. Morelock have reached out to Director Brown. To my knowledge, he has not shared his views or statement with anyone on the board or in the district. Again, while this may be frustrating there isn’t anything that can be done beyond requesting that he makes his views and reasoning known. 

I will reiterate my personal commitment, my knowledge of several other board member’s commitment, and Dr. Morelock’s commitment to this work. I apologize for not being able to offer you more assistance or specific information but I continue to encourage community questions, requests, and engagement in all board matters.  

Brandy Penner
Newberg School Board of Director 
Chair, Director Zone 2
Oregon School Board Association
Region 13 Director

Newberg School Board Emails: The Board chair responds to emails sent to the full board. School board members only deliberate when gathered as a quorum as outlined in the Public Meeting Law. To assure that board conversations and deliberations do not occur on email, the Board chair will respond on behalf of the Board. All Board members and the Superintendent receive communications that come from the community as well as the response given by the Board chair. All Board members will be blind copied in responses made by the Board chair.

 

From: Beth Woolsey
To: Brandy Penner
Cc: Joe Morelock
June 26, 2020

This is all helpful information — thank you for taking the time to research and send it.

Beth

 

From: David Brown
To: Beth Woolsey
June 28, 2020

Beth 

I am waiting for my Newberg School District leaders to communicate with me on a move in the right path forward.  School members do not engage in Facebook chats about Newberg School Board matters. The waiting is hard and I am sorry this has caused you stress for you and your family.

I could not comment at the last meeting because of my computer only letting me have visuals.  I would have loved to make my statement on time and let the people of Newberg-Dundee know my views..  

Hopefully this will happen soon and thank you for the email

Dave Brown
Newberg School District
Zone 6 Board Director
503-888-6365

 

From: Beth Woolsey
To: Brandy Penner, David Brown, Joe Morelock
June 28, 2020

Thank you for replying, Dave.

I am not asking for a response via Facebook. Although I’m not aware of a policy prohibiting Facebook responses, and our former District 6 board member, Mindy Allison, regularly responded and clarified board positions and her own via Facebook, I’m aware it’s not a forum on which everyone’s comfortable engaging. An email response, however, addressing your constituents’ concerns is certainly appropriate, especially given the importance and urgency of addressing adopting anti-racist policies in NPS.

I’m confused that you’re waiting for other NPS leaders to communicate to you on a right path forward. Brandy Penner responded to my email and said “ it’s best to hear directly from Director Brown regarding his choice to vote no.“ That’s what I’ve been attempting to do — to give you an opportunity to respond — but so far, you haven’t done so. I’m frustrated by that.

To be clear, I do expect a response regarding your no vote. I respectfully request you rescind your no vote and pivot to supporting the NPS anti-racist resolution which is what the Newberg community of color — and especially our children of color — needs you to do and which is what the Oregon School Board Association has requested of all boards. 

While I appreciate your apology for the stress this has caused me and my family, I am not at all concerned for my own family or myself. I am concerned for those who are marginalized and vulnerable in Newberg Public Schools who are being actively harmed by a board which does not unanimously speak against racism.

I also understand technology is difficult to navigate. However, I understand there were several other ways you could have commented at the last board meeting, including calling, texting, or emailing Gregg Koskela who was running the meeting; calling, texting, or emailing other board members or Joe; or even visually signaling via a wave that you had something to say. Sometimes we have to be creative in overcoming technological challenges, and your inability to utilize other ways to be heard along with your lack of response to concerned constituents signals a lack of understanding about the magnitude of this issue. I hope that’s not the case and that you’re willing to hear those concerns and respond very soon.

Dave, you and I have many mutual friends, and you’re well loved by the people of our community. You have a vast array of staunch defenders. You’ve also done kind and good things for the students with whom you directly interact. I’m asking you to extend your representation beyond the folks you usually hear from and to listen to those who are so often voiceless in our society, especially people of color who desperately need leaders to pave the way and show that we do, in fact, have a board united in loving our neighbors as ourselves and who are willing to take action to do so.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Beth Woolsey

 

From: Beth Woolsey
To: Brandy Penner, David Brown, Joe Morelock
June 29, 2020

Hi again, Brandy. 

I’m still waiting for a reply from Dave Brown regarding his no vote. Can you confirm whether or not he’s aware that he’s allowed to email and talk to constituents prior to the next board meeting? He appears to be confused about that, so I’m wanting to make sure that’s not still posing a barrier for him with communication as I try to figure out what’s preventing a response. 

Thank you.

Beth Woolsey

 

From: Brandy Penner
To: Beth Woolsey, Joe Morelock
June 29, 2020

I and other board members have communicated with Dave regarding communication on social media and with constituents in general. He is aware that as an individual board member, he has every right and responsibility to communicate with constituents. 

Brandy Penner
Newberg School Board of Director 
Chair, Director Zone 2
Oregon School Board Association
Region 13 Director

Newberg School Board Emails: The Board chair responds to emails sent to the full board. School board members only deliberate when gathered as a quorum as outlined in the Public Meeting Law. To assure that board conversations and deliberations do not occur on email, the Board chair will respond on behalf of the Board. All Board members and the Superintendent receive communications that come from the community as well as the response given by the Board chair. All Board members will be blind copied in responses made by the Board chair.

 

From: Beth Woolsey
To: Brandy Penner, Joe Morelock
June 29, 2020

Thank you!

 

From: Beth Woolsey
To: Brandy Penner, David Brown, Joe Morelock
July 7, 2020

Dear Dave,

Per your last message to me nine days ago, you were “ waiting for my Newberg School District leaders to communicate with me on a move in the right path forward.” It is my understanding that other members of the board were able to communicate to you that there are no barriers preventing you from communicating with your constituents. I do not know what your reason is for continuing to ignore the people you represent since I have not heard from you since, but I do want to express my disappointment in your lack of response and that I will continue to try to solicit one from you via private and public channels. I’m also disappointed and frustrated that you continue to neglect addressing the reasons for your vote against Newberg’s anti-racism resolution and reiterate that your constituents deserve an explanation, your attention, and timely, substantive communication. 

Beth Woolsey

 

I never received a reply from Director Brown.

 

On July 9, 2020, at a special school board meeting to hear from the public, Director Brown finally read a statement to explain his no vote. You can see it here, along with my in-line response.

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
1 comment
  1. Thank you

Leave a Reply to Ariel L. Marsh Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.