Some Union Public Schools parents are calling for board of education member Jeff Bennett to step down after he sent a controversial email to a parent in response to concerns about school starting this month.
"If you've seen the email, it is perplexing,” UPS parent Michelle Palmer said. “It's just surprising.”
Michelle Palmer and her husband, Adam Palmer, have three children that attend Union Public Schools. All they wanted to do was voice their concerns to the board before Monday’s meeting at the Union Education Service Center.
The Palmers now have more concerns about their children's safety.
Bennett's response came after the Palmers emailed the board, urging them to have students start the fall semester distance learning. The Palmers’ email to the district’s board of education is below.
To The Members of the Board of Union Public Schools:
As has been stated over and over, these are odd and unprecedented times that have been a challenge to our community, our city, our state, our nation, and the world. From the outset, we would like to say we appreciate the leadership the Board has shown since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, moving to distance learning after spring break and making the preparations that you’ve made for in-person learning in the fall.
However, the more we learn about the coronavirus and about the trends of COVID infections rising in Oklahoma, the more we are concerned about the safety and feasibility of moving to in-person instruction while a virus that is largely airborne gains a second wind. Perhaps this is not the time to put a lot of children in the same room/building for several hours a day.
We have three children in various Union schools, and we chose in-person instruction because we truly believe it is the best way to learn. Our oldest is going into her senior year, and we believe time at school with friends is an important aspect to cementing this milestone moment. And yet, as other area schools make the difficult decision to go to distance learning for the first nine weeks, we would like to strongly encourage the Board to follow suit, for the safety of our students, faculty, and staff.
We trust you to make the right decision for the long-term safety of all involved and for the longevity of the district.
Thank you for your consideration.
Adam & Michelle Palmer,
As shown below, Bennett’s email response to the Palmers referred to COVID-19 as “the deadly Chinese virus.”
Thanks for your opinion.
I’m not convinced anyone, certainly not the experts, most defiantly not me know much about covid. We shut down schools because it is what we had to do in order to defeat the deadly Chinese virus, just 21 days if we shut everything down, more than 2 months later states started to reopen. Then the 2nd wave and cases with numbers never seen before, well actually the group (20 to 50 year olds) that were not aloud in hospitals and clinics because they were not at risk were not being tested well now they are. Tests were not available then Kodak gets resurrected with a $500 million contract to provide chemicals to make tests now we are testing at a rate of nearly a million a day, nation wide. Reporting is faulty as many states are/were counting a positive covid test the same as a positive antibody test, which are the opposite. One sais you have it one sais you have antibodies which help your body fight it off. The press want you to be in tune with the number of cases as bad news sells and those numbers are going up but death rate is going down.
I certainly appreciate the trust you place in myself and the board but there is no right decision, certainly not for everyone…
"I sat stunned for a few minutes like, 'What did I just read?' and I had to read it again,” Michelle Palmer said. “To choose to call it a ‘Chinese virus’ was just grieving to me. That is a racist and loaded comment.”
"It is definitely cause for concern that this sort of high-level decisions that involve tens of thousands of lives are partially being decided by the individual who would write such things," Adam Palmer said.
Bennett has served on the board since 2006. The district sent News on 6 the following statement.
“We received confirmation from Mr. Bennett that the email was indeed from him. Please know that as an elected school board member, the thoughts and opinions expressed in his letter to this Union parent are his own and do not reflect the thinking of the leadership of Union Public Schools. We have a very serious decision to make on Monday regarding whether we will have school in-person or via distance learning in the fall. We will make the best decision possible based on the advice of public health experts and the best available information.”
The Palmers are calling for Bennett to step down from his role. They hope the email starts a discussion.
"I don't believe that's the heart of Union at all, but I think it does show us that there is a need here," Michelle Palmer said.
News on 6 reached out to Bennett, who confirmed that email was his, but did not want to comment.
Monday's school board meeting will be conducted on 7 p.m. in the Board Room of the Union Education Service Center at 8506 East 61st Street.