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Save WCSD? Misinformation, racism and homophobia don’t help (opinion)


Submitted by Kurt Thigpen, former Washoe County School Trustee

I was disturbed, but not surprised, to see the below public comment submitted to a recent school board meeting by Mr. Joe Morabito, president and CEO of Paragon Relocation. 

I remember him well from my time on the school board during public comment periods and the many emails he would send to the board. I don’t recall them ever being positive, but I’m sure the folks reading this aren’t surprised by that either.

This email was submitted to public comment for a recent school board meeting.

In this recent letter above, Mr. Morabito makes racially divisive comments about the ongoing superintendent search as well as, in my opinion, deeply anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments, when discussing the search for a new superintendent. I’m familiar with the latter in my time as a Trustee, and being an openly gay man myself. I’ve heard it all.

Mr. Morabito tries to rationalize his talking points, from what I understand, by saying that if others can lean on “identity politics,” then so should he. “Play their game,” he says.

The education, safety and well-being of our students and staff from all backgrounds isn’t a game, and I think it’s ludicrous and dangerous to say such things.

Why the cry of “identity politics” when folks share their lived experiences? Our experiences, stories and background have a lot to do with what we bring to the table as leaders. I assure you, we all likely have more in common than the things we don’t. Having a diverse board is a great thing.

I can’t remove the fact that I’m gay, nor am I going to hide it to make others feel comfortable. Straight cisgender folks aren’t asked to do the same, so why shoud it be expected of me? Who gets to make that decision? Not me and certainly not you.

I feel that Mr. Morabito, as an executive in the private sector and a former history teacher, could make better use of his free time by being a bridge-builder, and offer some real, constructive advice to help our schools rather than to berate school board members, the superintendent, and staff in his public comments. But, it seems to me that he’s chosen to jump on the bandwagon of hate that encircles our public school system.

I’m curious to know how many emails and cumulative hours he and others have spent sending these types of messages to the school board trustees, and during public comment.

Protesters have gathered outside the WCSD Administration Building and provided public comment repeatedly over the past several years opposing various curriculum proposals and district proposals. This protest was May 25, 2021 in Reno, Nev. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

I wonder, wouldn’t that time be better spent actually helping your community? Helping our schools? When was the last time these folks raised their hand and asked what they could do? 

There are many nonprofits that cater to our schools to get involved with, and you can even ask a school near you if they need things like school supplies, food donations, etc. I’m sure the students and educators would appreciate that more than being demoralized in public meetings.

I can tell you when I was a trustee, being yelled at for hours did absolutely nothing to sway me to another person’s side. Quite the opposite. It made me more resolved to not vote in a way that would give credence to this type of behavior. 

It gives me solace to know that, because of social and emotional learning programs, our students are much more well-behaved than the majority of the folks I’ve seen approach the podium.

Instead of berating public servants and school district staff, and wasting taxpayer dollars taking up time regurgutating what I feel to be bigoted rhetoric at school board meetings, why don’t you get involved?

Our schools, like every other school district in America, are trying their best to recover from the worst pandemic in modern history. They didn’t invent it, nor did they ask for any of this. Show a little kindness and cut them a little slack as they’re burnt out, and there aren’t many new teachers coming up behind them.

Educators and support professionals, who are severely burnt out trying to teach and keep children safe, are seeing what’s happening at school board meetings and, in my opinion, are leaving the profession in droves because they’re not getting the community support they need to continue on. Even enrollment in University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Education has declined over the past four years, creating a smaller supply of new teachers coming in during the staffing shortage.

To those who spend hours waiting to give three minutes of public comment, I implore you to find other ways to be useful. 

Washoe County School Bus Driver Giana Curreri starts a bus up at the Ghetto Bus Yard in Sparks, Nevada on Sept. 17, 2021. As of Sept. 20, 2021 the district was short almost 50 drivers and drivers began making double runs to make up for the shortage. The shortage has since worsened and the district has a rotating suspension of routes. Image: Richard Bednarski / This Is Reno

Volunteer where you can at a nearby school, get your substitute teaching license (I did), maybe even get a class C driver’s license so you can help with the bus driver shortage.

President John F. Kennedy said it perfectly in one of his most famous speeches,“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

To all of you who are SO angry about the state of education in America today, ask yourself what is the best use of your time? Does camping outside the WCSD Administration building for hours help our students? I think not.

Enough is enough. 

As we emerge from the dark cloud created by this pandemic, we need to come together and help to rebuild our community and the morale of our educators and students.

We are still very divided, but we can only succeed if we work together. 

I don’t care what political party you belong to or who you voted for. None of that matters in the day to day life of a student.

None of that matters in the classroom full of 30-40 kids to one teacher doing their best to provide our students with an education, despite not having much public support and having one hand tied behind their back with the lack of resources they have because of outdated state revenue streams.

When was the last time you unclenched those fists, stopped hollering and listened to what our educators and students really need to be successful?

I say to Mr. Morabito, I hope that you are able to sit down and really listen to folks that are suffering and may not be part of your ideological circle. You’ll learn a lot.

Kurt Thigpen

I could go on and on, as I’m passionate to this day about education, but I’ll end this piece with a quote from John Lennon: “Give peace a chance.” Thank you.

Kurt Thigpen is a bestselling author, a former Trustee for the Washoe County School Board for District D, a community & mental health advocate, and the CEO of Ace Studios, a social impact agency based in Reno, Nevada.

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