It’s been a rough start to the year in the Scottsdale Unified School District.
Neo-nazi comic books were found by staff on the Chaparral High School campus three times over the first two weeks of school. The material was removed in the mornings before students entered campus.
Then a woman was arrested after trying to sneak past police while attempting to gain access to a SUSD Governing Board meeting room during the Aug. 17 special meeting, according to board President Jann-Michael Greenburg. That meeting was held virtually but the woman believed the meeting was being held live.
“That individual does not live in our community. She’s not a parent in our community but I think that shows the scope of what is going on here,” Greenburg said during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 24.
Also, there were protests at Cocopah Middle School and Cherokee Elementary School schools during the week encouraging students to not follow the district’s mask mandate.
“We heard some pretty unfortunate comments about Asians; comments that COVID is a Chinese bio-weapon,” Greenburg said.
And things didn’t get any easier for Greenburg during last week’s meeting. He was heard saying, “Jesus (expletive) Christ people!” into a hot mic after a parent claimed it was a school employee who left the comic books, called “White Will,” for students to find.
“I apologize for saying that,” Greenburg said Wednesday. “I am sorry if I offended anyone. I’m sorry if I offended anyone’s beliefs.”
A school employee was investigated for leaving the comic books, but was later cleared by police.
Forty-five people lined up to comment on the district’s mask mandate, that went into effect last week. For security reasons, they were made to wait outside the board’s chambers and enter one at a time to speak.
Many opposed the mandate.
Charlie Kirk identified himself as a new resident of Scottsdale.
“It kind of feels like I’m living in San Francisco because of all of you and your self-righteous measures you’re putting (in place) to abuse the children of this wonderful state,” Kirk told the board.
“I’m going to have children here one day and I sure hope people like you aren’t in charge,” he continued.
“You are defying Arizona law and measures to mask children even though there is zero evidence to show children are at a significant risk of catching or dying from the Chinese Corona Virus … we know what masking children does. This has a serious mental health toll on young people."
Not everyone was critical of the mask mandate.
Quite a few speakers, like Kaveh Najafi, a local doctor with two children in the district, thanked the school board for the mask mandate.
“I and the medical community stand behind you,” he said.
Numerous school boards that held meetings last week, particularly on Aug. 24, were swamped by emails and in-person speeches related to masks.
Some of those districts, such as Mesa Public Schools and Gilbert Public Schools – two of the state’s largest – are not even requiring masks.
The board voted 4-1 two weeks ago to require students in the district’s 29 schools wear masks until Sept. 29, when state law outlawing mask and vaccine mandates takes effect.
Gov. Doug Ducey contends the law is already in effect.
He has said he will offer private school vouchers to students in any district violating the ban on mandates and will prevent them from sharing $163 million that the state got through the American Rescue Plan to boost per-pupil funding.
The latter threat does not appear to impact SUSD since it is not listed on a spreadsheet maintained by the governor’s office showing potential amounts various districts are eligible for.
The Biden administration has said it will use civil rights laws to prevent governors from cracking down on school districts that require masks be worn in school. The mandate ban is at issue in at least two lawsuits that remain unresolved.
The SUSD board did add a stipulation to its mandate stating parents could make “requests for accommodation” for students who could not wear a mask for “reasonable” reasons like anxiety from wearing a mask. Ideological considerations do not constitute a reason to grant an exemption, district spokeswoman Nancy Norman said.
The district has just over 22,000 students, and officials have received just under 500 requests for accommodation, Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel said Tuesday. That is less than 2.3 percent of the student body. Less than 20 percent of those requests have been denied, Menzel said.
Things aren’t just hard for the district’s leadership though.
“We’ve had reports this week of verbal abuse targeted at teachers, assistant principals, principals and others using language that I don’t feel comfortable repeating here,” Menzel said.
“Our frontline staff, building secretaries, nurses, teachers and administrators are following the governing board directive and the guidance of public health officials regarding the mask requirement.
“None of them should be subject to verbal abuse as a result of them implementing practices designed to keep our schools open for in person learning.”
The debate over masks comes amid a continuing surge in COVID-19 cases.
Data released by the county health department Aug. 26 show Scottsdale Unified is in the highest level of virus transmission.
Cases per 100,000 climbed for the fourth consecutive week to 273 – a level not seen for months – while new positive test results held steady at about 11.5 percent.