SCHOOLS

S-K school board director, county commissioner considers removing children from district

School board director Danielle Bethell poses with a portrait drawn by a student at a Jan. 14, 2020 school board meeting (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Danielle Bethell, a parent of two Salem-Keizer students, took to Facebook on Nov. 23 to ask for help from her followers. 

“In search of middle school/high school homeschool pods in the Keizer area, or nearby,” she wrote. “If you operate or participate in one, please instant message me.”

Bethell has served on the Salem-Keizer school board since 2019 as the director for Zone 6, which encompasses Keizer. She represents more than 38,000 people and 10 schools on the board. Her post on Nov. 23 was on her private account that only her followers could see.

“Should I be nervous by this post?” one commenter wrote. 

Bethell wrote in response that the decision to look at other options is “specifically about us, the choices we need to make for our children, and the lack of real education and safety being provided in our schools today.”

“Fundamentally, the number one goal for us as parents is to be sure our children are raised in a stable, healthy environment. Our teachers are overtaxed, the hallways and classrooms are unsafe, whether you consider safety through physical nature or mental/emotional, all of those challenges exist. I’ve been frustrated for some time and regardless of the role that I play in this community my children must come first,” she added in her comment. 

In a call with the Keizertimes on Monday, Nov. 29, Bethell stressed that her decision to look at other options was what is best for her and her family, but may not be best for everyone. 

“I understand that my post, for some reason, alarms people because I’m on the school board. But I’m first and foremost, a mom and my kids are my priority,” said Bethell. “I get asked every day, twice today by two different families on separate sides of the district, what else they can be doing for their kids. And I don’t have the answer because every family is different. All the circumstances that go into every household are unique and I’m not set apart from that.”

Bethell lives in Keizer and graduated from McKay High School in Salem in 1997. In addition to serving on the school board, Bethell is also a Marion County commissioner.

Bethell’s post comes as safety in Salem-Keizer schools has become a hot topic in both the community and on the school board. Bethell said that the safety she was referring to was “not necessarily the fighting” but the “political environment” that exists in schools that “fosters the pitting of one against the other.”

“In some of the classrooms in this district, we want to force kids into some level of identity when they haven’t even figured out how to comb their hair properly,” said Bethell. “We’re forcing kids at young ages to take on the education and definition of certain types of identity, whether it be gender or sexuality or race or culture, and it’s literally by opinion, stealing their innocence from them.”

Public school curriculum has become a highly politicized topic across the country as school boards and parents have worked to ban “political” topics from schools. In Newberg, Oregon, the school board voted in September to ban district employees from displaying any sort of political or controversial symbols or images, such as support for Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ pride.

Bethell, who is conservative, says the move isn’t political. She said her daughter, who is in middle school, doesn’t need to be forced “to see other people for their gender, their race, their sexuality, or any of that. It’s overwhelming for these kids.”

Bethell said that she ran for the school board in 2019 because she was a “pissed off mom.” Due to the way the school district and school board are set up, however, Bethell said the role hasn’t come with the influence she expected.

“I literally have no power as a school board member,” Bethell said. “The only authority that we have as a school board is to hire and fire the superintendent and pass a budget.”

Bethell said that her and her family have yet to make a final decision but that multiple people had messaged her with different opportunities for homeschooling pods in the community. 

This article was originally published in the Keizertimes and is reprinted with permission. Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.

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