Dozens speak at packed Upper Arlington school board meeting in wake of covert video
An overflow crowd packed the Upper Arlington Board of Education meeting Tuesday at the city building's council chambers as dozens registered support or displeasure over a secretly recorded video of a school official discussing how diversity, equity and inclusion education is handled.
More than 40 residents took an opportunity to speak for five minutes each and the public comment section lasted for nearly three hours. The board meeting lasted about three and a half hours, though no action was taken on diversity initiatives or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Matt Boaz's employment status.
Residents offer differing views on video, fallout
Many in attendance Tuesday wore red shirts to show support for the school district's diversity and inclusion initiatives, saying that outside extremists are using Upper Arlington school district to create controversy and wage a larger war on public schools.
"(Upper Arlington) schools are a perfect example of public education, adequately funded and supported by the community," Catherine Kennedy, 41, said. "We are a beacon district and that is why we are the target of extremist groups."
Well over 100 people attended the @CityofUA school board meeting Tuesday night, with many wearing red to support the district's diversity equity and inclusion initiatives after the district was the subject of covert recording from a conservative media group.
For @DispatchAlerts pic.twitter.com/EhvcWjI6Ca
— Cole Daniel Behrens (@Colebehr_report) February 7, 2023
Kennedy said she wanted the Upper Arlington school district leadership to continue to stand against "extremist groups who don't want what's best for our children and want to further their own political agendas."
"They are dragging the reputation of our community and our school district through the mud and creating an environment of fear among our educators," Kennedy said.
Randy Walters, 70, who graduated from Upper Arlington and has grandchildren in the district, said he believed the "ultimate goal was to defund public education and the Upper Arlington School District."
"This is not about DEI, this is not about critical race theory, this is not about LGBTQ .... they are all just a means to an end," Walters said. "Their goal is to defund public education and put our tax dollars in their pockets."
Others expressed their shock and disappointment with Boaz's statement, saying they were concerned material outside of approved curriculum will be secretly added without parents' awareness or knowledge.
Carrie Colombo, a former substitute teacher and Upper Arlington parent, said she felt deceived and that the board needed to take action to restore confidence in their child's education.
"Transparency is required to build trust," Colombo said. "Regaining the trust of parents will take time and hard work. The damage done by this short video lasts a long time."
Sally Boyer, 62, said she understands that the video was secretly recorded and doesn't condone the practice, but said the comments made in the video either reflect a lack of judgment on Boaz's part, or in the worst case, that he is searching for loopholes to bypass potential state law.
"Administrators at our school need to be held at the highest level of accountability," Boyer said. "We need real clarity on what DEI looks like in our district and what are the details and initiatives that we want to put in place to accomplish measurable goals."
Suburban Columbus schools target of right-wing media group
Accuracy in Media claims the controversial video, which was filmed without the knowledge of local suburban school officials because Ohio allows one-party recording, reveals "public school administrators who are determined to advance the principles of critical race theory even if it becomes illegal."
Interim Superintendent Kathleen Jenney in her statement last month said the district and the school board "are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and ensuring our schools are places where every student is welcomed, respected, celebrated and supported while receiving the highest quality education."
"This is a crucial part of ensuring that we live out our mission — to challenge and support every student, every step of the way," she added.
The right-wing media group also placed a video truck outside the Republican-controlled Ohio Statehouse in recent weeks, playing the video on loop.
"These radicals are being paid by your tax dollars to deceive you," Adam Guillette, president of Accuracy in Media, says in the video. "These public school administrators are devoted to promoting social justice in classrooms. They are devoted to teaching your children that America is systemically racist, that capitalism is inherently racist."
Accuracy in Media, which reported about $2.1 million in revenue in 2021, seeks to combat what it views as bias in the mainstream press. The Washington D.C.-based group is led by Guillette, a former vice president for development at Project Veritas, which is known for conducting ambush interviews against liberal groups and journalists.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Upper Arlington school residents speak on video, CRT and diversity