Tension on Bethel School Board after LGBTQ resolution fails

Tension on Bethel School Board after LGBTQ resolution fails

Tension on Bethel School Board after LGBTQ resolution fails

Tension between members of the Bethel School District Board escalated at a recent meeting after a proposal to put forward a resolution affirming support of the LGBTQ+ community failed in a split vote.

At the Tuesday, June 11 meeting, board member Roseanna Camacho called out superintendent Tom Seigel and several members of the board for promising to put a resolution supporting the LGBTQ+ community on the June 11 agenda but not following through.

The resolution was brought forth by board member Erasmo Ruiz, the first openly LGBTQ+ member of the Bethel School Board. Ruiz told The News Tribune he got the idea after attending the National School Board Directors Conference in April where he saw templates for LGBTQ+ resolutions that had been approved by other school boards across the country.

Click to resize

A copy of the draft resolution obtained by The News Tribune proclaims support for LGBTQ+ youth, staff and families and affirmed commitment to “providing a safe learning and work environment where all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect,” as well as commitment to investigate “all forms” of bullying and harassment, support for LGBTQ+ clubs and adequate training for staff. Ruiz said the language of the resolution was approved by the district’s legal counsel on May 23.

Tuesday night, since the resolution was not on the meeting agenda, a motion was made to add it. That motion failed on a 2-2 vote. Ruiz and Camaco voted in favor. Board vice president Terrance Mayers Sr. and member Teresa Cosio voted against. Board president Marcus Young Sr., the tiebreaker, was not present due to a death in the family, as announced at the beginning of the meeting.

Later in the meeting Camacho questioned why the resolution never made it to the June 11 agenda and called for some members’ resignations.

“I didn’t receive any communication about it from our superintendent, our president of the board or our vice president. It just disappeared. And then when we try to make an amendment to add it back, because, mind you, we’ve been talking about this for weeks… we have these two board members vote ‘nay’,” she said. “Voters of Pierce County and our school district, look at how your representatives on this board are voting and please ask for their resignation or don’t vote them in when they come up for re-election, because they’re clearly not making the right decisions, and they’re certainly not even-keeled players.”

Tensions escalated further when Camacho accused Mayers of having an agenda that favored Black students over other students. Mayers appeared shocked at the accusation and the meeting ended shortly after.

“Wow. That is offensive beyond all means,” he said to those present. “My apologies for not having decorum in this setting.”

Later that night as board members were leaving the school district office Camacho said Mayers made a comment to her she perceived as threatening, saying, “Be prepared for what’s next.”

Camacho reported the incident to the Pierce County sheriff’s deputy on site. According to a written incident inquiry authored by the deputy, Ruiz and Cosio also witnessed Mayers say that. Mayers told the deputy he directed the comment to Camacho not to threaten her but because her behavior in the board meeting was unacceptable, the incident inquiry said.

“Because of her bias discrimination he believed she was bullying him,” according to the incident inquiry.

The deputy told Camacho freedom of speech allows people to make comments. Mayers’ comment was not deemed a threat and did not meet the elements of a crime, so it was not documented in a criminal report, the deputy wrote.

Camacho told The News Tribune on Wednesday she and Mayers “had been really good friends the last couple of years … before these last few months.”

“We didn’t always agree, but it was always a mutual respect,” she said.

After his comment, Camacho said she had trouble sleeping and felt scared and vulnerable. Ruiz said he also felt intimidated enough to ask his spouse to come to future meetings for support.

Mayers told The News Tribune on Friday, “This actually hurts quite a bit to have the police weaponized against me.”

“Knowing I have biracial children, for her to say that I’m only here for Black people, Black students… I considered her my friend,” he said. “I lost a whole field of respect for her in that moment.”

Mayers said he’s had many experiences with microaggressions and had his demeanor weaponized against him before.

“I’m a big Black guy, so I know my presence can be perceived as a threat,” he said. “I do my best to try to stay even-keeled in my approach and not be emotional, that’s just something that’s trained for a lot of Black young men.”

Mayers said his comment Tuesday was directed to Ruiz and Camacho, warning them of potential violations of open meeting laws, although he did find Camacho’s public comments “unnecessary and uncalled for.”

Young, who is also a Black man, told The News Tribune on Thursday he was hurt that Camacho reported Mayers’ comment to the Sheriff’s Department. Young said graduation and the kids of the school district “should be on the forefront and taking the focus, but instead we got adults and we’re taking the focus.”

Why wasn’t the resolution on the agenda?

When asked by The News Tribune why the LGBTQ+ resolution wasn’t on the regular agenda, Young said it was because there were legal concerns related to the Washington Open Public Meetings Act unrelated to the wording of the resolution. Young said time needed to discuss the resolution was not the issue. When pressed further, Young said he could not discuss what was talked about in an executive session prior to the public school board meeting June 11.

“There were some legal concerns that were brought up on how we got to the point of putting it on the agenda,” he said. “Because of that, my role as the president is to protect our school district, our school board and our community, and with those questions being out in regards to that, pulling it off was the best thing to do right now until we can get that cleared up.”

In response to a voicemail left for Seigel by The News Tribune, district director of communications Doug Boyles said board meeting agendas are approved by the Board of Directors and, “The District does not comment or speculate on the working relationships of members of our Board of Directors.”

Ruiz told The News Tribune he was unaware of legal concerns related to the resolution and was open to having a study session to discuss and address them.

He brought up the resolution hoping it would pass during Pride month before school ended given attacks on LGBTQ rights nationwide, but Ruiz said his impression is that some board members are trying to avoid the situation and don’t want to take a public stance on the issue of LGBTQ+ rights. Camacho told The News Tribune she believed that was the case as well.

“Bring it for a vote,” Ruiz said. “I’m aware that we’re in a conservative district and there’s people that are not for the LGBTQ community, (but) we have a lot of students that are LGBTQ, and the fact that we can’t even recognize them with this resolution is really sad, because it’s literally just a one page resolution saying that we acknowledge you and we see you and we support you.”

Young told The News Tribune the Bethel School Board has not historically approved “non-essential” resolutions and questioned the value of those resolutions as compared to action.

“Resolutions, proclamations are just words, you know? Let’s make sure we’re doing work. Work sustains. Work brings change,” he said. “There’s no arm that enforces a resolution in any entity.”

Moving forward the board will receive training from the Washington State School Directors’ Association on how to present resolutions to reduce confusion and possible legal violations in the future, Young said. In terms of current support for LGBTQ+ students and staff, he said there are three equity specialists and an equity director in the school district that are on the ground talking to people about what support is needed.

Profile Image of Becca Most

Becca Most is a reporter covering the Pierce County Council and other issues affecting Tacoma residents. Originally from the Midwest, Becca previously wrote about city and social issues in Central Minnesota, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Her work has been recognized by Gannett and the USA Today Network, as well as the Minnesota Newspaper Association where she won first place in arts, government/public affairs and investigative reporting in 2023.
Support my work with a digital subscription