JOHNSTON, Iowa — A Johnston mother is upset after racist and homophobic slurs from a book were spoken aloud by another parent during Monday night’s school board meeting.
Tiara Mays says during the public comment portion of the meeting, a parent spoke on the books “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie as well as another book.
“The parent read an excerpt from a different book that’s not even a part of the agenda, and then later in her comments she mentioned the number of times that certain words were mentioned within the books that we’ve been talking about,” said Mays. “She used the N-word and the F-word in terms of homosexuality, and we were really all kind of just appalled. Like how do you say things like that?”
Mays said she spoke out of turn and questioned the board members about a parent using that language. Mays said when she spoke up, another parent turned around and shushed her. May says the meeting began to turn hostile, so she left, and someone called the police.
“Yesterday, what happened was wrong,” said Mays. “But until we have leadership that’s going to acknowledge that it was wrong and acknowledge that people were harmed through this exchange, nothing is ever going to change.”
Mays believes school board members should write out specific rules about language, restrict public comment and remind parents about the rules before each meeting.
“Right now, the opportunity for public comment is derailing the business that needs to be done,” said Mays. “[The school board meeting] was a four-hour-plus meeting yesterday. We have got to learn some parliamentary procedures. Start using our Robert’s Rules of Order to get the business done in a timely fashion. “
Furthermore, she believes one group should not attempt to derail the education of other students.
“Be confident in how you’re raising our kids,” says Mays. “Be confident in what your values are and stop trying to restrict the learning of everyone else because we’re all coming from different paths.”
Meanwhile, the Johnston Community School District wrote this statement regarding Monday’s school board meeting.
“The board has a significant interest in maintaining the decorum of its meetings, and it is expected that members of the public and the board will address each other with civility. The orderly process of the board meeting will not be interfered with or disrupted by public comment. Only individuals recognized by the board president will be allowed to speak. Comments by others are out of order. If disruptive, the individual causing disruption may be asked to leave the board meeting. Defamatory comments may be subject to legal action.
Following board policy, Johnston Board of Education President Katie Fiala called for a recess when a disruption broke out at the board meeting after these public comments. Because the language cited by the parent is used in the books under consideration, it was not deemed to be “defamatory” or a personal attack to board members or the general public. Since board policy was followed, this member of the public was allowed to express her views. Later in the meeting, the board ultimately voted to keep the books as a choice for students in the curriculum.
We understand this issue has raised concern, and appreciate the passionate response to this and many other discussions our board has throughout the year. These types of discussions are not limited to our community, and a number of school districts around our area and across the country are having similar discussions at their meetings.
Our district will continue to partner with parents and students to create an inclusive environment where everyone in our community has access to a high-quality educational experience.”Johnston Community School District