Oshkosh Schools superintendent asks for civility after postponed school board meeting

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 5:44 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2021 at 10:38 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - The Oshkosh Area School District’s superintendent and board president met Thursday to reschedule Wednesday night’s school board meeting that was postponed because of disruptions. Superintendent Bryan Davis sent out a letter on Thursday saying students, staff and visitors will be required to wear face coverings through Oct. 1.

As Action 2 News reported, the confrontations during Wednesday night’s meeting started with a crowd of people refusing to put on masks in the board room, despite the district rules. The arguments led board members to walk out and the meeting was called off before it began. Oshkosh school officials are working on rescheduling the meeting and plan to announce the new date Friday.

“Ultimately, our kids are watching how we react to these things and how do we want our kids to react in difficult situations, whether it’s masking or some other difficult situations. We’re the role models for our kids, and they’re watching very closely right now, especially as things get more emotional,” said Davis.

Superintendent Davis said that he’s hopeful community health data improve and the mask requirement can be lifted after the first month of classes, but wants masks in place when school kicks back up again.

“For the first month of the school year, we feel the best way to keep kids and staff in-person in this COVID environment is to have face coverings required, and we’ll review the data and have, you know, continued discourse with our community and look at emerging research as we’re moving forward,” said Davis.

Davis said he has never seen a situation like Wednesday night’s postponed board meeting in the 12 years as superintendent and wants community members to think about their kids next time before attending a board meeting and refusing to follow the district rules.

“I just appreciate the continued commitment and dedication that our school board members have here in Oshkosh, and really across the state and across the country, because these are pivotal roles for the success of our schools and our communities and most importantly for our kids,” said Davis.

Davis said while Oshkosh school board members haven’t received serious threats, other local school boards are facing increased verbal attacks and threats over topics like masks and vaccines. Scenes like this have been playing out across Wisconsin, causing the Department of Justice to weigh in.

“When we think about is it typically for people to voice their opinion at a school board meeting? Yes, it is. One thing that is different is where we see people making threats, where there is physical violence involved, when the emotions are high, and that is when we see behaviors changing and things becoming concerning,” Kristin Devitt of the DOJ’s Office of School Safety said.

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Davis said it’s a difficult time to be a school board member right now, “Because of a lot of this discussion sometimes isn’t about kids, it’s about other issues like masks, for example. I think that was more the case last night.”

“I would just advocate for supporting them, and if you have different views we have elections every April that there’s an opportunity for that process to be within our democratic process,” said Davis.

Some parents told Action 2 News that they plan to disrupt future meetings, too.

Oshkosh parent Richard Plant, who was wearing a mask, told us at after the meeting was canceled, “They should just do a virtual meeting. That way they can control who can speak and who can’t at a time. I’m not saying it’s great to control things all the time, but this isn’t for them, it’s for our kids.”

Kristy Walsh, who was not wearing a mask, said, “We are going to be back, because this is about our kids. It’s not about them. It’s not about them or them, it’s about our kids.”

Superintendent Davis told us, “I would ask that everybody just, you know, pause, think about their kids before their writing emails or as they’re attending meetings, and making sure that the interactions that we have need to be civil, need to be able to provide facts, certainly provide your opinions.”

The superintendent and board president say they hope community members will be respectful at the next meeting. ”I would just ask people again to be respectful with their discourse. We don’t have to agree, but we need to be respectful.” Davis added.

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