Richardson’s school board president resigned abruptly on Friday, during a tumultuous time for the district as he waged fierce battles over how to handle the pandemic and faces a state lawsuit.
It was not immediately clear why board chair Karen Clardy had decided to step down now. She sent a brief letter to Superintendent Jeannie Stone and her fellow directors on Friday, saying she had made the “difficult decision” to step down, effective immediately.
Clardy said she was not ready to make a statement on Friday morning. His term was due to expire in May 2022.
RISD is among several districts being sued by Attorney General Ken Paxton over the board’s decision to require masks on campuses in a bid to protect children and staff from COVID-19. Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning such warrants.
Richardson’s administrators have come under immense pressure from members of the community, both those who are in favor and those who are adamantly against the mask demands. The district temporarily closed a school due to a high number of cases and after a sixth-grader was placed in the intensive care unit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking inside schools.
School trustees – mostly unpaid elected officials – across the country have been in the spotlight for the past two years, many facing personal attacks. Disagreements over COVID-19 protocols, as well as how race and racism are handled, have fueled much of the tension in boardrooms.
RISD’s mother, Michelle Meals, said a lot of ugliness found its way into the board meetings. Some parents in the public refused to wear face masks against district politics at a recent meeting, Meals said, with “terrible rhetoric” directed at board members.
“I could just see why someone would quit at this point. I am surprised that the members of the board of directors still have the energy to fight at this time, ”she said.
The National School Boards Association and the School Superintendents Association issued a joint statement this week condemning threats received by members as they make tough choices about how to reopen schools amid the ongoing pandemic.
Disagreements are okay, said Viola Garcia, a Houston-area school counselor and NSBA president. Board members are used to busy meetings and tough decisions on issues such as redistributing or hiring superintendents.
“Shouting contests, harassment, abuse and threats, both online and in person, are absolutely not,” she said in a statement. “School board members want to hear from the communities they serve, especially during this critical time of the pandemic. But the community’s contribution must remain respectful and civil, even if it is in opposition. “
Fort Worth Chairman of the Board Tobi Jackson last month noted that pro-mask protesters gathered at her home, leaving signs and stuffed animals. The commotion interrupted a conference call where she was exploring the district’s legal options regarding a mask warrant, she said. This district has been sued by relatives for its efforts to have a face covering requirement.
At Southlake Carroll ISD, two administrators have been charged with breaking Texas open meetings law by privately discussing address diversity and inclusion in schools in the district.
Richardson administrators have also been at the center of a recent battle over the placement of books related to gender identity and LGBTQ representation in school libraries. More books have been added as part of an ongoing effort to strengthen inclusiveness.
An enraged mother testified at the last RISD board meeting, saying her child was given a list of books she could choose to read that had vulgar language and sexual content. The video of his comments has since been widely shared.
The board is expected to discuss Clardy’s resignation at its next board meeting, potentially including next steps related to the vacant seat.
“On behalf of the District, we thank Karen for her service to RISD, both on the Board of Trustees and her 25 years at Lake Highlands High School,” Stone said in a statement. “His contributions and commitment to students and teachers have been impactful and real, and we wish him the best for the future. “
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