Inside the Hornets’ Nest: Edina’s 5-hour school board meeting over the word “frightening”

The Hornets’ nest was stirred up again Tuesday evening when the Edina School Board met to discuss possible disciplinary action against its Vice Chair Sarah Patzloff over a social media post.

Around 150 parents and community members—from kids to grandparents—gathered in the hallway of the Edina Community Center to show overwhelming support for Sarah who has served on the school board for six years. Supporters were concerned the complaints against Sarah were an attempt to intimidate her for speaking her mind and expressing a conservative view.

Today, the Star Tribune weighed in on the board meeting.

The board held a closed meeting Tuesday to discuss the complaints against Patzloff regarding a Facebook post in which she criticized a blog by a 10th-grade English teacher in the Edina schools.

Patzloff on Feb. 6 shared the PDF of the English teacher Jackie Roehl’s blog, Voices from the Inside, on a private Facebook page for Edina parents, calling its manifesto “frightening.” The blog made a case for teaching students about racial and social justice issues.“Overall, educators must understand that despite the fact that discussing issues of race, racism, and Whiteness is uncomfortable, they need to experience that discomfort to effect real change,” the blog post said.

The PDF document Sarah shared on the Facebook page is not a “blog.” Jackie Roehl’s piece Voices From the Inside is actually a chapter in Glenn E. Singleton’s book More Courageous Conversations About Race published in 2013. Mr. Singleton is president and CEO of Pacific Educational Group (PEG), a “racial equity” consulting group based in California that has trained Minnesota teachers and staff on “addressing race.”

In her essay, Roehl reveals the Pre-AP English 10 taught at Edina High is, and intentionally so, a year-long class on racial identity politics and “critical race theory” (which, as my colleague Katherine Kersten wrote about here, rejects Martin Luther King, Jr.’s conviction that people should be judged by the content of their character).

Katherine details out other concerning parts of Roehl’s essay, noting the primary purpose of the English course “was not to teach students about great literature, elevate their writing skills, improve their grammar or enhance their understanding of the English language’s complexities. It was to enlist kids in a campaign to eradicate ‘White privilege’ at Edina High.” Roehl also described her annoyance with “questioning parents” who pushed back against the new focus of the course.

Since a few vocal parents find my commitment to expanding the racial consciousness of my students troubling, parent-teacher conference days are draining and demanding….

[One] parent asked why the race unit didn’t include a discussion of the racism that White males feel from groups such as the Black Panthers. [Roehl does not reveal how, or if, she answered this question.] Other questions and comments are more veiled: “Wouldn’t students be better served with a classic rather than Black Boy?” Or “My daughter is looking forward to a new unit.”

As you can see from the picture below, Sarah referred to Roehl’s piece as “frightening.” She did not personally attack the teacher or disparage her but voiced concern over the mission of an English course taught to impressionable children.

The Edina School Board met for over 5 hours to determine what repercussions, if any, Sarah should face for this post. Five hours. And for several chunks of time within those hours, Sarah was isolated in a room behind two locked doors and a security guard. Supporters viewed this as an extremely troubling process.

At one point, a couple board members came out into the hallway and told supporters (who were standing/sitting around talking amongst themselves), that certain board members were “intimidated” by them and wanted them to leave. There was also a threat to call the police.

But that did not deter the 50+ of Sarah’s original supporters from resuming their conversations as the board continued to meet into the wee hours of the morning.

Around 12:15 a.m., when it appeared the meeting was coming to an end, supporters stood outside the door with their banners and “We are Sarah” t-shirts and began singing “God Bless America.”

In an open-door session, members then confirmed no disciplinary action would be taken against Sarah. She did, however, have to issue the following apology which was posted on the school board website:

I would like to express my regret for posting comments on Facebook that were upsetting to some members of our community. It wasn’t my intent to offend anyone. I will continue to strongly advocate for our students and hope that we can put this matter behind us and focus our attention on the work of the District.

After Sarah read her statement, Board Chair Leny Wallen-Friedman made the following statement on behalf of the board. This statement was also made public on the school board’s website.

As everyone is aware, the School Board met tonight to review a complaint against one of our members. The Board was required by its policies and practices to fully investigate this matter, and that independent investigation has now concluded. No formal disciplinary action will be taken against Ms. Patzloff, and the Board considers this matter to be closed. No further information may be shared regarding the allegations or the details of the investigation, as such data is classified as private personnel data on Ms. Patzloff.

The Board would like to thank those individuals who took part in this process, and is looking forward to moving past this matter to continue its focus on the best interests of its students, parents, staff, and the Edina community. As always, we remain committed to ensuring that our students receive an excellent education.

Mr. Wallen-Friedman then asked if there were any objections to adjourning, to which Sarah asked if she could make a final comment and was given permission to do so. (This was captured by me on video.)

This has not been an easy process, I don’t think for anybody. I think it’s a shame we are at this point where we are still having to deal with this, and that goes for everybody in the room, but of course my colleagues and others who have had to deal with this complaint. I guess what I just wanted to share is that I care so deeply about this district and our students, and our point is to be here for them. I don’t ever want to harm that. And for some, I may have done that. I don’t want to do that. My point is, I want to move forward; I want to continue to work for the district; I want to make sure we advocate for our kids, through disagreement and agreement. Because that’s what’s most important. That we are doing what’s right for our kids. That’s what I want for our district.

Despite the closed investigation, many supporters voiced disappointment over the whole matter, and are concerned this will cause further division in the community. Edina’s residents need to feel they can trust their school board to look out for their children’s best interests. They need to feel confident academic excellence is not threatened by political ideology. Because when they don’t, they will rally together and come a’buzzin’.