By Patti Singer
– firstname.lastname@example.org –
A shouting match between Rochester City School Board Commissioner Beatriz LeBron and activist and candidate Howard Eagle at a school board meeting May 7 still reverberates.
Eagle on May 9 sent an email to LeBron and copied in local media, saying that he planned to ask State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to reprimand her for what he called a personal attack during a special meeting in which the board approved the $931 million school budget for 2019-2020.
He also invited LeBron and other school board members to participate in a “restorative circle”, picking up on comments LeBron made during the meeting about the practice of restorative justice.
On May 8, Eagle had written to LeBron, asking for an apology and for her to resign from the board as an example of restorative justice. In his emails to LeBron, Eagle said the comments were slanderous, hurtful, vicious and vitriolic.
LeBron said Thursday that she would not apologize and that Eagle has a history of agitation toward her. She said she has been criticized for her conduct. Mayor Lovely Warren said the behavior at Tuesday’s meeting “was wrong. Everyone should act in a manner that sets a positive example for our children. Instead of infighting, the Board of Education should be focused on the education of our children. Anything less is unacceptable.”
Commissioner Judith Davis, who was being addressed by LeBron when the exchange with Eagle began, called Thursday afternoon for her colleague to be censured by the school board. In an email to board president Van White and others, Davis wrote that the board expects students to adhere to a code of conduct and enforces discipline when the code is violated. “If the Board holds a standard for students, we must hold a similar standard for ourselves and one of the President’s responsibilities would be attempting to ensure Board member compliance,” she wrote.
But LeBron said that many people don’t know her backstory of interactions with Eagle, and she said she has received support from other women who reported they had experienced similar treatment.
“I’m going to stand firm on this,” LeBron said Thursday. “His tactics and his behavior are bullying and threatening and need to stop.”
Their exchange took place near the end of the meeting, which focused on the proposed 2019-2020 budget.
Eagle had spoken at the beginning of the meeting, raising concerns about several things. Their exchange occurred late in the meeting, as LeBron was responding to comments by Davis. LeBron said to Davis that as a board member, she needs to be part of solutions. LeBron then turned her attention to comments Eagle and some members of his activist coalition were making from the audience. In an interview Thursday, Eagle said he was speaking up on behalf of Davis.
The exchange was recorded on a livestream on the Rochester City School District’s Facebook page and starts with about 18 minutes left in the meeting.
LeBron turned her attention to the audience and said, “I’m having a conversation. Always interrupting. Bye. Bye. Bye. Thank you. Have a good night. … You guys are not on this board. … Have a good night. … Be quiet. … Thank you very much. …”
LeBron turned toward the rest of the board and said that the comments are annoying, then turned back to Eagle and his group and said they are grandparent age “acting like children.”
She then directed comments to Eagle on his finances and his appearance.
She said Thursday that Eagle’s finances are public record and are warranted, considering he is running for school board.
She said Eagle had been making comments throughout the meeting.
“I had a breaking point of what I feel was personal attacks and threatening,” LeBron said, adding that she has blocked Eagle on social media. “ … At some point in this community we have to say enough is enough and it has to stop.”
LeBron acknowledged that many people consider Eagle to be highly accomplished and passionate. “You can be all of those things. I’m those things. But I don’t go around degrading people. I had a moment in time where I snapped from having to endure this for years.”
LeBron said her 8-year-old daughter was at the meeting. She said she wants her children to walk away from bullies, but that at some point a person has to stand up for themselves.
After the exchange at the meeting, board president Van White tried to calm the tension and bring the board back to business.
In an interview Thursday, White said that LeBron’s comments were her own.
He defended free speech and the right of people to voice their opinions, but urged decorum.
“However, and this is not directed at Commissioner LeBron or Mr. Eagle, it is important that when we exercise that very precious right … that we exercise it responsibly and respectfully, if for no other reason than we must know that our children and the people that we represent are watching,” he said. “Vigorous debate is important, absolutely essential. You will never hear me as a board member or as a private citizen ask that someone tone down their points of view. … How one exercises that right has to be contemplated and considered because particularly as educators, we have to know that children are watching.”
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