New Washoe County School Board Trustee Jeff Church is disputing the School District’s statement that the Board of Trustees was in agreement with Superintendent Kristen McNeill’s comments in the wake of the Jan. 6 rioting at the U.S. Capitol.
“I am deeply troubled on many fronts by the January 6 communication by Superintendent McNeill. I was sworn into the Board of Trustees on January 4 and on January 6 faced the first crisis,” Church said in an email to the news media over the weekend. “At dinner, I received my first notice, a text by an irate citizen regarding the matter. That was followed by dozens of emails, phone calls, etc. overwhelmingly upset by the communication.”
McNeill sent an email and phone message to parents condemning the violence by Trump-inspired extremists. The district also shared a post on Facebook.
“I am not alone in my condemnation of these acts. Other leaders, as well as other superintendents across our country … have stated the same—including, as of yesterday, the president. As an educator, a parent and superintendent of the Washoe County School District, I unconditionally condemn the violence and all violent acts,” McNeill said.
School Board Trustee Angie Taylor is quoted by the Reno Gazette Journal saying the board unanimously supported the communiques.
“As I speak on behalf of the board, we are in full support when fellow Americans protest in a peaceful manner,” Taylor said. “We absolutely support the statement that Dr. McNeill released.”
“I am troubled that my notification as a Trustee was an evening email sent minutes before with no mention that it was via the phone-connect system nor was I sent the actual voice message,” he said. “That I received the irate notice and then the voice message from a citizen in [sic] a concern,” he said. “One obstacle is that under the law (OML) I can’t poll other Trustees on their ideas on how to proceed as it may be considered a serial communication. I also learned that each elected body is unique and WCSD vests a great deal of power in the (now acting) Board President.
“I have known Dr. Taylor [for] many years and find her to be honest, highly qualified, and a wonderful person. We just may disagree. [Her] statement as acting Board President cannot reflect a consensus, [sic] had there been such it might be an OML violation,” Church added.
Church alleged that McNeill making the statement with the district’s phone system could dissuade parents from trusting school calls related to emergencies.
“Her comments ‘educator and a parent,’ ‘shocked and angered,’ ‘an assault on our sacred democracy’ certainly may be construed by some as opinion and emotion vs [sic] fact and many feel that her role is Superintendent and ‘educator and a parent’ need to be put aside. I am troubled by these terms,” he said.
Church also raised the issue that the district prohibits Black Lives Matter and rainbow flags in classrooms — calling them prohibited political speech.
“If the Superintendent can address such issues [as the Capitol siege] than [sic] how can we control or discipline a teacher or staff from similar ‘semi-political’ activity? Any disciplinary arbitrator would toss this in seconds,” Church said.
District hostile to Church
It’s not the first time Church has criticized the School District. WCSD has been hostile to Church prior to his getting elected in November. School attorneys made veiled threats to sue him for “defamation” after years of Church’s commentary as a school district critic — espousing incorrect, misleading or partially correct points about the district. School district defender Richard Jay recently wrote a strongly worded rebuttal to one of Church’s recent commentaries.
Katy Simon Holland, former trustee and board president, even emailed a constituent in the wake of the revelations about former board member Scott Kelley last September, saying Church would be a lousy option as a trustee. She also encouraged the constituent vote for candidate Craig Wesner over Diane Nicolet, who won the district G seat.
According to public records ordered by This Is Reno, Holland wrote from her WCSD email account, saying, “I am NO FAN of Jeff Church. Have known him well for decades. My brother knew him as a fellow retired police officer and wouldn’t have anything to do with him because he spreads misinformation and doesn’t tell the truth. A bad situation for your community to end up with Jeff Church.
“All the more reason to have Craig Wesner as your other Representative. Craig deserves to win. I hope you spread the word.”
Washoe County School District bars the use of district resources for any kind of political activity, especially related to candidates running for office.
Church won his seat after This Is Reno first reported that incumbent board member Scott Kelley was documented in court records to have tracked his wife with hidden GPS units and was operating fake social media accounts that, for years, had been making caustic and denigrating comments to people online.
It was revealed that he was trolling people online as both a school trustee and as a public information officer for the Nevada Department of Corrections.
Church said he is committed to being a team player as a trustee.
“Upon election a conservative political pundit welcomed my election as a boat-rocker. I responded publicly saying that rocking a boat does no good, turning it around does,” he said. “I pledged to be a Team Player but we Trustees all understand that this does not mean we agree 100%. This is one of those cases.”My personal opinion is that the statement, especially via ‘robocall’ was poor judgement, period!” he said. “Because of [the] Open Meeting Law, I want to be clear that any reported statements by the (acting) Board President should not be construed as mine, are not mine, and we had no communication as to such.”
Update: This story has been updated to include a WCSD Facebook post related to the email and phone call sent by Superintendent McNeill on Jan. 6, 2021.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.