The Washoe County School District (WCSD) Board of Trustees did not take up the possible censure of board member Jeff Church during its regular meeting on Tuesday.
The discussion of a possible censure of Church is now set to take place on Oct. 12.
“I believe this postponement will provide more time for Trustee Church and other members of the Board to review the supporting materials and will allow for a more thorough and constructive conversation with all Trustees,” said board president Angela Taylor. “Additionally, it will provide a more transparent process as members of the community will also have a better opportunity to review the materials.”
Church has been accused by the board and Taylor of violating seven board policies.
Some 200-plus pages of materials filed in support of the censure are available on the district website.
In a statement released to media Monday, Taylor said, “When Board Clerk Dr. [Diane] Nicolet and I initially met with Trustee Church last week to provide notice of the meeting to consider his character, alleged misconduct, and/or professional competence he asked if he could review the detailed allegations as soon as possible. I advised that I was preparing my notes for the meeting, but I heard him and would do what I could to get him something earlier.”
Taylor said she initially thought the compiled material would be available no later than last Friday (Sept. 24), but that “there was more information to gather” than she’d anticipated “and additional time was needed to appropriately prepare it (e.g., redacting personal information) so it was not ready to be posted until” Monday morning.
Many of the documents submitted in support of the censure of Church are records of complaints lodged by constituents following email exchanges with Church, and complaints and concerns raised by other board members and district staff.
Specific allegations concerning the seven board policies Church is accused of having violated include sending emails where he took a position adverse to the district without first discussing his position with Taylor and the other trustees.
Board members are also required to adhere to a balanced governance model. Church is accused of having violated this on multiple occasions, including by making disparaging remarks against district staff and threatening litigation against the district.
Church is also accused of not acting with integrity, accuracy and transparency when interacting with the media, members of the public and WCSD staff—including an allegation that he knowingly spread inaccurate information about the district’s diversity training in July.
He is further accused of ignoring board policies requiring the board president to be copied on some emails and responding to public comment in violation of board protocols.
In April, Church voted against a motion that affirmed trustee commitments to follow board rules. He argued at the time that there was no board policy that limited trustees and that the motion was put on the agenda as a step to potentially censure him in the future.
Among the documents submitted in favor of the censure is an email exchange between Church and an unidentified WCSD employee whose name was redacted.
The conversation pertained to social justice curriculum for kindergarten through fifth-grade students that was first proposed earlier this year.
In the email, Church addressed the proposed curriculum, for which a superintendent’s task force was formed following outcry from public commenters against it.
Church said he gathered the employee was in support of the proposed supplemental curriculum and noted his own opposition. He referred to the proposed curriculum as critical race theory, something the district has repeatedly refuted and asked the employee how much time and general fund money should be spent on it.
“It is CRT, it is not mainstream, it does not reflect true Washoe County Values, it harms racial harmony by creating divisiveness, it is 99+ % opposed based on emails I receive. SJ [social justice] aka CRT = more kids pulled from school= decreased funding = upset voters in 2022. We also risk legal action,” Church wrote.
Critical Race Theory has become a hot button topic nationally, with some school districts and states banning it. Opponents argue that it demonizes whites as oppressors and asserts that all Black people are victims, which scholars say is a misinterpretation of the theory. District officials have repeatedly said the social justice curriculum is not CRT.
“I didn’t feel safe being left alone with Trustee Church, and I worried if the rhetoric would eventually lead to violence from members of the public.”
Former Trustee Kurt Thigpen, who supported Church as a candidate for trustee last fall, sent a letter to the board this week supporting his censure.
Thigpen said Church’s opposing candidate, incumbent Scott Kelly, was unfit for public office.
“[Scott Kelley’s social media] accounts have been alleged to have harassed constituents, school district employees, and anyone else who disagreed with him openly on school board matters,” Thigpen wrote in an opinion column on This Is Reno with former Trustee Andrew Caudill. “They were even reportedly used in relation to his position at the Nevada Department of Corrections to harass the families of inmates that had passed away saying their family member’s death was ‘a good thing,’”
Now, however, Thigpen said Church on two occasions exhibited transphobic views.
“Eventually I started receiving messages from the public anytime I spoke up for LGBTQ+ students, their civil rights, and even condemning me for talking about my ‘lifestyle’ as an openly gay man to make a point during a board meeting,” Thigpen wrote. “For this reason, and many others I have mentioned publicly, I no longer felt that my safety could be guaranteed in our board meetings. I didn’t feel safe being left alone with Trustee Church, and I worried if the rhetoric would eventually lead to violence from members of the public. We certainly noticed increased tensions at every meeting following.”
Church denied being transphobic and said he has done nothing wrong to warrant his censure.
“While I have not violated any laws, Ethics or Decorum rules, I allegedly violated Board Policy and so called ‘protocols’ set before my tenure that requires compliance and uses the word ‘shall’ to mandate obedience to Board Governance Rules,” he said in a typo-ridden statement to the news media.
New buses, elementary school approved
The board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of approving the issuance of up to $3.4 million of medium-term bonds to finance the purchase of 14 new school buses, 27 support vehicles and various equipment.
Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers said that deferral of the funding would cause increased maintenance costs and possibly lead to breakdowns of older vehicles. Eventually, all buses and other fleet vehicles require replacement, he said.
The board also voted unanimously to move forward with the first steps required for the building of a new elementary school in the south part of Reno near Rio Wrangler Parkway to relieve overcrowding of existing schools in the neighborhood.
Double Diamond Elementary and Brown Elementary have experienced some overcrowding since before 2010.
There were about 1,800 elementary school students attending the two schools when enrollment peaked between 2017-2019.
Following the passage of WC-1 in November 2016, Nick Poulakidas Elementary opened in August 2019. While this relieved overcrowding initially, subsequent enrollments in this region have continued to increase, exceeding projections, Mathers said.
There are four portable school buildings at Poulakidas, five portables at Brown and none at Double Diamond. There are more than 2,000 students enrolled in these three schools, and significant continued development and growth are expected in the area.
The board’s approval to move forward with the plans for the new school means the matter will now go to the Capital Funding Protection Committee, which will review them and make a recommendation that will come back to the board for final approval.
Designs for the new school have already been completed. If approved for construction, the school would open for the 2023-2024 school year. The estimated cost to build it is $40 million.
Process to replace former trustee Jacqueline Calvert underway
The board of trustees will on Nov. 2 appoint a new trustee to replace Jacqueline Calvert, who resigned on Sept. 14. Calvert moved and was no longer living within District F, which she represented.
The application deadline for people seeking to represent District F will close on Oct. 15.
By Oct. 26, the board will narrow the field of candidates to be interviewed on Nov. 2.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.