Several dozen people were packed into the meeting room of the governing board of the Chandler Unified School District on Wednesday night, ready to take serious concerns to the leadership. Most wanted answers about a racist video on Snapchat a month earlier that showed Chandler middle school students chanting a slur.
But just as the parents were about to start addressing the incident, board president Annette Auxier wanted to inform them of something: She had places to be.
“I want you to know that I am currently a college student, and I have a class tonight at 8:45. And I am going to have to leave at 8:30 to get home for my class,” Auxier told the crowd. “So if I get up and leave, please do not take it as disrespect. I do not mean it that way, but in order to get home, I’m going to have to do that.”
So why couldn’t you reschedule the class, an audience member asked?
“Well, because I lose 40 points if I’m not there,” explained Auxier, who is white.
For these parents, Auxier's early departure encapsulated why they feel so strongly that the education and well-being of Chandler's students of color are not taken seriously.
Despite a long line of parents ready to give impassioned remarks, when 8:30 p.m. rolled around, Auxier left after an attendee called her out specifically.
“Forgive me for saying it, but it needs to be said: How dare you,” Chandler parent Lynn Burnett told Auxier, saying that is was wrong for her to ignore the obvious pain and frustration in the room by getting up and walking out.
“I don’t care what you have scheduled — you reschedule everything for this, you reschedule everything in your life for this," Burnett said. "You know why? Because we all did!”
With that, Auxier left her seat and started to walk out of the room, saying that she would be keeping track of the rest of the meeting.
She appeared to be holding back tears. “I trust our board members,” said Auxier.
Auxier missed more than two hours of the meeting, which lasted until after 11 p.m. and exposed deep rifts between the Chandler school administration and African-American parents and families of the district.
In an interview on Thursday, Auxier said that she needed to attend her finance class, which she is taking online through Brigham Young University — Idaho. Auxier explained that if she hadn’t been in class last night to lead her group’s discussion, her classmates would have been penalized as a result.
“I thought it would be less disrespectful to tell them in advance that I was going to have to leave, than just to get up and leave,” Auxier told Phoenix New Times. “And I’m afraid that it detracted from what we were trying to accomplish, and that’s what I feel badly about. I understand where they are coming from. It wasn’t meant as disrespect.”
Much of the angst was about the Snapchat video filmed over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. It showed white eighth-graders at Santan Junior High School chanting the lyrics to a racist song and saying, "F*** all n*****s.”
But there were a variety of other concerns.
The mother of a Santan student, Amber Hutchinson, described racist bullying that her daughter has endured at the school, with a collective shrug from her teachers and administrators.
Hutchinson told the board, “I am outraged at the behaviors, the blatant disregard for the black students, their rights, the lack of common decency, and the leadership at Santan Junior High School.”
Look at her daughter’s experience in contrast to the students who were recorded on Snapchat yelling a racial slur, Hutchinson pointed out, and you’ll understand why she’s outraged.
“These kids who made this racist video — you guys have all seen it — they are still in class,” she added.
After Auxier departed, the board approved a resolution members had prepared before the meeting, titled “Governing Board and Administration Resolution Regarding Equity and Inclusion.”
During the meeting, audience members offered suggestions to fine-tune the document. The definition of hate speech in the resolution was amended to include all discrimination based on race as well as national origin, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
Additionally, a reference to a program called “We All Matter Wednesday,” a weekly message related to inclusion and bullying, was excised at the suggestion of board member Barb Mozdzen. She said that it bore too much similarity to “All Lives Matter” — the right’s favorite insulting and bad-faith response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Chandler Unified School District Superintendent Camille Casteel was present at the meeting, but was stone-faced and pretty much silent throughout.
“I do better when I take notes,” she explained.
But some parents weren't happy with her lack of engagement.
“I am sorry you felt I was disrespecting you,” Casteel said once the meeting was nearly over, in response to criticism from attendees. “I truly am not. And if anybody knows me, I think they would tell you that. The people that know me, know what’s in my heart.”
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The board voiced a commitment to take steps toward healing over the racist incident and the myriad other issues affecting students of color. Its members, however, seemed at a loss for how to answer questions of discipline for the students who chanted hate speech. Board members deferred, saying that discipline is handled at the administrative level of the school.
Janelle Wood, the founder of the Black Mothers Forum, said that the students need to face consequences, or the district runs the risk of emboldening other students to engage in racist bullying and intimidation against their peers, further alienating black students in the district.
“Because there haven’t been any consequences, we can’t start to restore the harm,” Wood said. “And so everyone’s trying to get to the point where we’re doing healing sessions — which you did last week, and what we’re going to try to do at the end of the month for Santan — but we have something called an open wound.”
“The wound is open, and it’s now got infected because of the delays and the hesitancy to go ahead and enforce your own policy,” Wood added.