Unbeknown to the group, the virtual meeting where they were letting loose was being broadcast live to an audience that included the very parents they were disparaging — and at least one was recording.
“Uh oh,” one school trustee said, after appearing to receive a frantic message from someone who had just noticed the error. “We have the meeting open to the public right now.”
“Nuh uh,” another responded.
“Great,” commented a third as cameras were quickly turned off. But it was too late: Video of the conversation would soon float around the Internet, leading the school board president to resign as outraged parents discussed a potential recall.
The accidental “hot mic” moment on Wednesday night laid bare the heightened tensions between elected officials who are under growing pressure to reopen schools and parents who have now spent nearly a year juggling work and child care. California is one of the last states in the country where most students have not set foot in a classroom since March, according to Politico, and disputes between politicians, teachers’ unions and parents have grown increasingly rancorous.
On Thursday, video of the Oakley Union school board members griping about parents was uploaded to YouTube by an anonymous user who expressed a desire “for our local public school to be run by better people.” The individual wrote that they had logged into a public meeting a few minutes early, using the access code posted on the school board’s website, and began filming after hearing one board member speak poorly about parents.
In the recording, board members can be heard lamenting the fact that they’ve faced criticism on social media from fed-up parents desperate for a break from virtual school.
“It’s really unfortunate that they want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back,” Oakley Union Elementary School Board President Lisa Brizendine said to a chorus of affirmation from other trustees.
“I totally hear that, because my brother had a delivery service for medical marijuana, and the clientele were parents with their kids in school,” school board member Richie Masadas responded, prompting delighted laughter from the group.
“When you got your kids at home,” he added, “no more smoking out.”
Not realizing that they had an audience, the school board members also discussed Oakley Union District Superintendent Greg Hetrick’s suggestion that parents making public comments could be cut off “mid-sentence” if they go on for more than three minutes.
“I think that would be amazing,” said Kim Beede, the trustee who can also be heard pledging to mess with critics in a profane tirade.
The fallout from the leaked video was swift. According to KTVU, parents protested with a “Zoom out” and kept their children out of remote classes on Thursday. Later that day, Brizendine resigned. An online petition calling for the other board members to follow suit or be recalled had received more than 4,200 signatures by early Friday.
“I thought the board members were also advocates for my child and had her best interests at heart. After last night’s incident, it really has me thinking that they don’t,” said Ashley Stalf, an Oakley Union parent, told KGO. “They see us writing letters monthly, weekly, to the board members, detailing our stresses and grief about distance learning. For them to say we are doing nothing and sitting home and smoking pot is far from the truth.”
None of the school board members have publicly addressed the incident, but Hetrick, who was present throughout the call but did not participate in the parent-bashing, issued an apology for the “unfortunate and truly inappropriate comments.”
“These comments are not typical and more importantly they are not what the community should expect from our school district,” Hetrick said in a statement shared with the Brentwood, Calif., Press. “I know that we lost trust with the community. I will not make excuses for what happened or why it happened.”