Defeated School Board Members Exhort Morality, Transparency in Final Meeting

Three outgoing Canby School Board members said their farewells Monday night, including two hard-right incumbents who lost their re-election bids last month as voters seemed to favor a more open-minded and collaborative approach.

Outgoing one-term board members Stefani Carlson and Dawn Depner campaigned with newcomer Lori Boatright on a “parents rights” platform that, among other things, criticized the district’s academic performance, promised to remove books deemed obscene from school libraries and was hostile toward teachers’ unions.

With one ally, Director Sherry Smith, already on the board, they’d hoped to win re-election and swing one seat, capturing a 4-3 majority that would enable them to push forward plans for greater parental involvement and improved student performance on which they claimed to have previously been stymied.

Instead, they were roundly swept in all three races by more moderate or progressive challengers.

Smith, who defeated retired longtime Canby School District administrator and educator Mike Zagyva two years ago to win her seat on the board, began by thanking Director Rob Sheveland, who is also departing, having opted not to seek re-election after two terms.

Outgoing Canby School Board members Dawn Depner and Stefani Carlson, as seen in a February 2020 meeting.

She then praised Depner and Carlson for their leadership over the past four years.

“It is so great to have people like the two of you on this board, who neither sought nor received personal gain from their service to the district,” she said. “We need more people who are serving purely 100% as service to others. Not for their family, not for their kids, but because they have the moral conviction and strength of character to fight for what is right and true no matter the price.”

Smith hailed the pair as “voices of reason and common sense” for pushing for Canby schools to reopen during the Covid-19 pandemic “when others were not willing to do so.”

“I applaud both of you for being willing to hear the complaints of parents and students and try to do something to help them,” she said. “You are great examples for our students because it takes courage to stand up or admit when there are problems that need to be fixed.

“I hope that they can learn from you to have the courage and their convictions to be honest, to be true to who they are, and be willing to speak out against wrong, even when it’s unpopular.”

Depner began by thanking the community for the opportunity to serve on the Canby School Board.

“I accepted this volunteer position, and I absolutely did the best that I could,” she said. “I enjoyed all the conversations with parents, students and staff. I felt privileged and shared in your concerns, in your disappointments, your joys, and all the accomplishments of your children and students.”

But the work was not, as they say, all sunshine and rainbows.

“There were many times I wept after meetings, before meetings, and on a few occasions, during meetings,” she admitted. “I have a huge heart for our children, and I deeply care for all of them, regardless of their race, religion, or their sexuality.

“At first, I wept in self pity when I was under attack for questioning teaching in the classroom and reporting the parents were concerned there would be retaliation and if they spoke up. … Next, I wept for my daughter, whom I felt was targeted because of my political affiliation and seed as a board member.”

She “wept” again, she claimed, when her daughter was forced to share her customized learning plan for students with disabilities, commonly known as a “504 plan,” with her entire class.

“I wept when I filed a formal complaint as a parent and no accountability was rendered,” Depner said. “I wept when I did a public records request at the high school and read 205 pages of correspondence between staff that included doxing one another and included strategies to punish your children if they did not wear a mask correctly.

“I went from weeping to anger when I was informed that I was being accused of ritualistic book burnings and staff meetings. I was told by the staff that this was all over the internet and I quote everybody knows that I did this again.”

Depner went on to further detail her feud with district staff, claiming she filed a formal complaint and that, again, no “corrective action” took place.

“I bring this up for one reason, and it’s really to help encourage the board to seek transparency and the information that is brought before you, to encourage accountability, better communication, and getting back to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic,” she said.

Carlson echoed many of Depner’s sentiments in her own prepared remarks. Though both won slim victories in 2019, Carlson’s was more controversial, having conveyed publicly that she was no longer running for the position, but reversing course and accepting the seat after eking out a narrow win.

“Four years ago, I was a reluctant winner to the Canby School Board, but I determined to do my job well,” she said. “I’ve spent those four years fighting for the betterment of this district and the protection of our most precious assets are kids.”

She lamented what she characterized as a rapidly shifting cultural milieu and said the two greatest challenges facing society are “morality and courage to speak truth regarding morality.”

“We need to refocus our moral compass on what is right and what is wrong, and we need to have the courage to speak truth,” she said. “I have learned many lessons serving on this board and the biggest lesson I have learned was to pray for my enemies as Jesus said, ‘But I say to you, love your enemies. Bless those who curse you do good to those who hate you.'”

Both highlighted their involvement in the hiring of Superintendent Dr. Aaron Downs, who was brought on board in June 2021.

“One of my proudest accomplishments that I’ve been blessed to be a part of was bringing Dr. Downs to the Canby School District,” Carlson said. “I believe with his leadership there are potentially great things in store for Canby.

“I will be praying for you, Dr. Downs, for courage, for resolve to always do the right next right thing. Thank you so much for being a part of this community. I would like to charge the incoming board members with the pursuit of also always doing the right thing.”

The scripture lessons continued with Carlson’s husband, Paul, who appeared during public comment to read a lengthy passage comprising more than half of Proverbs 31, a chapter expounding on the characteristics of a good wife that has become popular in the “biblical womanhood” movement of evangelical Christianity.

After thanking Sheveland and Depner for their service, Paul Carlson joked that he was “excited that I get my wife back.”

“I’m tired of sharing her with you for for the last four years,” he quipped. “Monday night is now another family night, so I’m excited about that.”

He went on to chastise the community for what he perceived as mistreatment of his wife in the run-up to the last election, without offering details or specific examples.

“The ugliness of our community that I saw come out was was very disheartening, and I hope that that will not not happen again,” he said. “I’m especially saddened by those in the community that hurled baseless insults at my wife, and others spread spiteful lies and engaged in near-slanderous activity.

“I really feel bad for these people. I’m honestly saddened that they lazily did not take the time to get to know my wife, because if they would have actually taken the effort to have a conversation with her, they would know what an amazing person she is, somebody who exudes love. Real love, not just squishy love, but real love.”

Sheveland centered his remarks around the Canby High School graduation ceremony the previous week, and how it represented to him a meaningful conclusion to his eight years on the board.

“It felt different, and I don’t know if it’s because of the fact that people were together again for the for the full school year, a normal school year,” he said. “But it just kind of reminded me, and I’ve been reflecting on how I feel it’s my turn to to step aside.

“We’ve come a long way, and we’ve got a lot a lot more to do, but I think we have very capable hands that we’re leaving it in with Aaron [Downs], you and your team, other district staff and the Board, so thank you and so.

Carlson, Smith and Depner did not attend the ceremony and assume school board members’ traditional role of handing out diplomas to new graduates. The reason for their absences is unknown.

Board Chair Sara Magenhemier also thanked the three outgoing board members as well as Associate Principal Kimie Carroll, who is stepping down after 17 years at Canby High School, and retiring CTE teacher Darren Monen, who has headed the school’s highly successful construction program for decades.

“Thanks to Kimie, graduation was fantastic,” she said. “You can always see the level care and connection you have with every student, and it’s apparent, I think, to the entire audience. We appreciate all the energy and effort that goes in into that.

And also to to Mr. Monen, because that program is very unique to Canby, and I think a lot of it is due to his extra effort and energy that he’s put into it over the years. It’s something that helps our students leave with a plan and a very a high level of skill that many others don’t have.”

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