Those wanting to publicly air their grievances over the decision to exclude seven students from their high school graduation ceremony were denied their chance last week, when Canby School Board Chair Angi Dilkes said she would not allow citizens’ comment at the June 17 meeting due to incivility.
The school board’s typical practice with regard to public comment involves requiring citizens to submit their remarks in advance, to be reviewed by the chair.
On previous occasions, Dilkes has omitted comments she deemed at odds with the district’s civility policy, which bars remarks that “reflect adversely on the background, character or motives of any individual.” At other times, adjustments were made due to the high volume of comments received.
But this appears to be the first time in her chairship that she pulled all submitted statements because of what she called the “uncivil nature of the majority of comments received.”
(Although most do, the law does not actually require government bodies to offer opportunities for public comment at all meetings — only that meetings and records are open for public viewing and inspection.)
Dilkes even read the civility policy after announcing her decision Thursday night, saying “I think we have wandered pretty far away from what we ask commenters to focus on.”
The chair said all board members would receive and read the comments that had been submitted. In the interest of public discourse, The Canby Current is also sharing these comments, which we received through a records request.
With one exception, the comments concerned the unsanctioned “third graduation ceremony” that followed the two official ones on June 11 at Cougar Stadium.
The majority of remarks came from the students themselves and their parents.
“I had been looking forward to this moment all week — honestly, for all my high school years,” said one of the students, Damian Santiago. “It is a rite of passage for seniors, something I had been excited to participate in. To say my dreams had been crushed when I was turned away at check-in is an understatement.”
As previously reported, the students were denied the chance to participate in the ceremony due to attending a basketball game at Canby High School and sitting with another teen who later tested positive for Covid-19 — according to their parents’ account. CHS administrators have declined comment on the matter.
Donna Wymer, mother of another one of the seniors, felt the situation was particularly unfortunate given how hard her son, Rylan, had tried to follow coronavirus protocols — including getting vaccinated.
“My son has done everything right with all these Covid restrictions that he’s had to endure this last year and a half,” she wrote. “He has had both his Covid shots at the time of this incident. My son, like all the students that went to school and played sports, had to wear a mask the whole time. They have done so much right this year.”
Several commenters accused the district of failing to properly follow county or state guidelines regarding the case — with one calling it a “kneejerk, wrongful investigation of Covid protocol” — while others claimed they had been deliberately targeted.
“Don’t ever question administration, which I have done since March. I believe my son, in particular, was targeted for my questions to administration, starting with football, then baseball, then track, then graduation,” said Shawnda Wright, mother of Kyle Sandner — though his twin brother, Kade, was allowed to participate in the ceremony. “They don’t like to be questioned.”
Others wondered why more couldn’t have been done.
“Why were there no alternatives or solutions from the school district?” Jeff Sandner asked. “This was the worst day of these kids’ lives. Why no solution for them?
“You call a student/parent and tell them they can’t participate in graduation two to three hours before they’re supposed to graduate, say sorry and that’s it? You’ve just destroyed a student on what should have been one of the most memorable days of their young lives, and you don’t care?”
Directors Stefani Carlson and Dawn Depner, who were the only Canby School Board members to take part in the unsanctioned graduation ceremony earlier this month, questioned Dilkes’ decision to exclude public comment, saying they felt that at least a few of them did not violate board rules.
“There were several that were completely civil, so why can’t we have the civil ones be read tonight?” Carlson asked. “It’s part of the process. The public has that right to have their comments read and addressed at this meeting.”
“It’s a judgment call, and it’s one that I’ve been making all year on this topic,” Dilkes replied. “I’ve made a decision not to allow it.”
“It does go against policy,” Carlson argued. “Just so everybody is informed on that.”
“I guess we will agree to disagree on that one,” Dilkes said.
Depner later read Kyle Sandner’s and Santiago’s comments, saying the students had been texting her during the meeting.
“It takes a lot of courage for them to come to a board and talk about their feelings,” she explained. “I think they feel kind of rejected, and I think they feel we rejected them again tonight. … I really feel like we owe these boys the opportunity to speak.”
Dilkes, who lost her bid for a third term on the school board and will leave office next month, offered parting words that were surprisingly personal in an emotional farewell to her colleagues.
She addressed her remarks primarily to the members of the Canby School District community, asking them, in their future comments to the board, “remember that there are humans on the other end of what’s being said.”
“I spent a good chunk of time this year trying to keep a couple of people I love very much alive,” she said. “Because they didn’t see a lot of reason for being here anymore. But I took on the responsibility. I’m not trying to shy away from that at all.
“I understand anger. I understand heartache. I’ve got plenty of that myself. There’s that saying: ‘Be kinder than necessary because you never know what someone might be going through.’ I hope that’s the spirit that we go into next school year with.”
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