WENATCHEE - It wasn’t the most comfortable of conversations during Tuesday night’s Wenatchee school board meeting.
Things got a little tense when board members expressed why they felt the need to keep board meetings online for the time being. The topic was addressed after board members abruptly adjourned an Aug. 24 meeting after a group of people who openly expressed their stance against masking kids in schools disrupted the meeting, prompting the board to reconvene online. It was later decided that all meetings would be conducted via Zoom indefinitely after police determined that a threat made to board members on Sep. 10 was ‘credible.’
Towards the end of this week's meeting, the conversation about whether meetings would remain online was addressed. All but one board member expressed apprehension to being in-person until after the November general election.
Three seats on Wenatchee’s school board are up for re-election. The Wenatchee School Board and candidates for open positions have been the subject of intense political scrutiny with topics of face mask and vaccine mandates, sex education, and critical race theory being the center of the strife. As a result of the board being the focal point of tension, four of the five members came to a consensus that remaining online was the safest way to proceed, with Julie Norton being the only member who opted for a return to in-person meetings.
“…as one of the people named in the Craigslist threat, I have children that still live at home,” incumbent school board candidate Dr. Michelle Sandberg said during Tuesday’s meeting. Sandberg and Maria Iniguez, both of whom are running for re-election, were the subjects of those online threats.
“I don’t know if things will calm down until after the election,” Sandberg said.
“We are a unified board, and having one person not feel safe enough to be in face-to-face instruction should be enough to make the decision for the board as a whole. For my colleagues to feel safe in the environment of this public service is important,” Iniguez said.
Both Sandberg, Iniguez, and Norton are running for re-election. In a letter that was made public over the summer, the Chelan County GOP endorsed Norton as a conservative candidate. Heading into the general election, Sandberg trails behind challenger Katherine Thomas, a candidate who was identified as “conservative” by the Chelan GOP. Iniguez has a comfortable lead over another candidate that was endorsed by the GOP, Matt Van Bogart. Norton has a convincing lead over challenger Miranda Skalisky. The Chelan County Democrats made public recommendations to vote for Sandberg, Iniguez, and Skalisky.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Sandberg confronted Norton, indicating that she had something to do in inciting uncivil discourse at the Aug. 24 meeting after replying to a comment on a social media post prior to the meeting.
“Someone from the UnMask Our Kids group, which was the group that primarily showed up at that late August meeting, somebody had asked where the meeting was and somebody said ‘oh it’s at Orchard (Park Orchard Middle School) and you actually corrected them on social media and said ‘no, it’s at the district building,’” Sandberg said to Norton.
Norton cordially replied and expressed that she didn’t realize those who showed up would be so disruptive, assuming that “they’d say their peace and get out, but we would get on with it (the meeting) in a civil manner,” Norton told Sandberg. “I had nothing to do with it, I gained nothing from it. I do not know who all or any of the people that were involved are,” Norton added.
“You had a nice round of applause when you left that night, didn’t you?” Sandberg replied.
The general election is set for November 2. It’s assumed that the next board meeting will be held in-person on Nov. 9.