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Vaccinations, Vacancy Hot Topics At OJUSD
School board 11-10
Once again it was standing room only at the OJUSD Tech Center as parents and community members gathered to discuss vaccinations and the newly vacant school board seat as a result of Board President Barbara Shook’s recent resignation. Photo Contributed

It was a night of much discussion and little by way of decision as members of the Oakdale Joint Unified School Board met for the November meeting on Monday, Nov. 8.

Parents, as well as community members continued with the trend of filling the OJUSD Tech Center to capacity to be sure they had their opinions, as well as voices heard.

Hot topics for the November meeting proved to be the newly vacant seat on the board, as longtime member, Board President Barbara Shook rendered her resignation from the board effective Oct. 31, 2021. In addition to the discussion and interest brought on by the open seat, the board also reviewed and discussed a newly drafted board resolution in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The meeting was called to order by board member Tina Shatswell who was quickly re-positioned by the board as the temporary Board President due to the resignation of Shook. Board member Diane Gilbert was named as provisional clerk.

“The District appreciates her commitment to her community and wishes her the best,” President Shatswell stated upon making the announcement of Shook’s recent resignation.

Board member Gilbert then made motion to move the discussion of the process to fill the vacancy further up on the agenda. Superintendent Dr. Dave Kline reviewed the item with the board as well as the audience stating that the board must appoint a new member within 60 days of the date of vacancy.

“To fill this, we have two options and then the Special Election,” Kline stated.

The two options Kline was referring to had been sent out via a district e-mail to all parents prior to the evening’s meeting. Option 1 stated the Board may vote to appoint a replacement to fill the vacancy, while Option 2 outlined a procedure of posting and advertising the vacancy in which applications would then be accepted and reviewed. A screening committee would then review the applications and interviews of the candidates would follow. Upon interviews of the candidates a provisional appointment would take place.

“In the event that the board does not take action to select option 1 or option 2 it can call for a special election at District expense to fill the vacancy,” Kline continued.

Board member Mike House inquired as to how many had expressed an interest in the position. Kline indicated only one that he was aware of to date.

It was also noted that while the board now operates in five trustee areas, Shook’s open seat was not designated as a trustee area but rather a Board Member at Large seat, which makes it available to all community members for consideration

“Even if you don’t reside in Mrs. Shook’s Trustee area, you could potentially run from any one of the five trustee areas,” Gilbert informed the audience.

With this being such an important fact to the position, Gilbert shared she felt it was in the best interest of the board to open it up to an election. Board members House and Shatswell both agreed, given the circumstances.

“I think we should call for that immediately,” Shatswell said of the election.

Given the appointment being at large, House shared he also agreed the election was a good idea. noting to the audience that it would just be for the remainder of the term, which is one year.

Attendees voiced opinions and interest in placing community member Melissa Goodman in the vacant seat, only to be reminded by Shatswell that it was the board’s responsibility to do the fair thing and open it to the community.

This position was met by verbal disapproval from the audience as it appeared many were in attendance in support of Goodman being placed in the vacant seat.

“I understand that this is what this group would like to do, but this group does not represent all of Oakdale,” Shatswell said to the disgruntled crowd, following hearing the estimated cost of $20,000 for a special election.

She additionally shared with the audience that certain funds are earmarked for specific district costs (i.e.: a special election) so use of the funds would not necessarily be “taking from the children” as many were alleging.

“We’re willing to spend the money to be fair and if we didn’t have the money, we wouldn’t spend it,” Shatswell said.

An unnamed audience member spoke from her seat regarding the one year opening. She addressed the board indicating her own experience with sitting on several boards and an understanding of the process at hand.

“As you mentioned whoever serves in this position will only be there for a year,” the audience member said. “Just considering the critical topics that we are talking about right now, I would ask the board to consider to hear from the concerned parents this evening and move forward with that. Then in a year’s time invest the budgeted amount to do a proper election Then we don’t stall in a process when it’s really important right now and there’s so many items on the table that we haven’t had to deal with before.”

Once all audience members were allowed to speak on the action item, comments were returned to the board in regards to how they felt they should proceed with the appointment.

Gilbert spoke frankly to the board as well as the audience, stating: “At the risk of throwing the administration under the bus, very honestly we the board should have had the opportunity to discuss how we were going to move forward with this very important action item to fill this vacancy before this went out to the community. The fact that we saw this after it had been sent out is problematic.”

Gilbert further reviewed the proper way in which she felt it should have been handled before before bringing it before the community.

A stalemate proved to be the ultimate outcome, as board member Larry Betschart was absent and a majority vote for either of the options could not be reached.

Another action item was also brought forward at the encouragement of House.

Superintendent Kline proceeded with the reading of Board Resolution No. 21-22-09, “Oakdale Joint Unified School District Position on Mandated Vaccines For Students in K-12 Schools” prior to the board discussion of the item.

“This document outlines the position of OJUSD on the COVID-19 vaccination mandates for schools. The Board of Trustees will vote on full approval of this position on November 8, 2021 at their regular Board meeting,” Kline read to the board and audience.

“Individual school boards, including OJUSD’s Board, lack legal authority to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for students,” he continued.

House asked Kline to simplify even further for the board, as well as the audience.

Kline replied to House’s request by re-reading the final paragraph of the resolution, which paraphrased read, “it should be left up to individual staff, parents and students whether district staff and students should be vaccinated against COVID-19 and not a blanket government mandate.”

House replied to the reading by saying, “That part I like, but I really want to make clear that they can still attend in person classroom instruction. They can just go to school, like they should go to school.”

Public comment was reopened at the completion of Kline’s reading.

Community member Shannon Schiess presented the board members with a packet of nine resolutions adopted by other districts within the state. Her feedback to the board was the presented resolution was the weakest one she had read to date.

“At first glance it appears as though it’s saying the district will not enforce the mandate because it lacks legal authority to do so. But when reading it carefully it just reiterates the current law,” she said of the two page document.

After much discussion among the board as well as the audience a decision was made to re-vamp the language of the proposed resolution to include stronger language on the Board’s position regarding the vaccination mandate and re-visit the item at the December meeting.

Public comment was then opened up following general reports and featured lengthy discussion primarily focusing on parents not in favor of masking students.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Open Session will begin at the Tech Center at 6:30 p.m.