Saline Board Discusses Support for Davis's 'Gender' Email, Calls for Kindness in Disagreement


Community members and Saline Board of Education trustees came to the defense of Kara Davis, who found herself at the center of a national social media firestorm last week.

When elementary school students visited the Weber-Blaess one-room school house for a lesson in an 1880 school day, schoolmasters and/or docents were observed dividing students as boys and girls. Davis, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for the district, suggested that using “binary/gendered” language can be harmful and asked, via email, that the volunteers at the one-room school refrain from using the term boy or girl to refer to students.

The email was leaked and made its way to Libs of Tiktok, a popular conservative X account that regularly lampoons things deemed “woke” or “politically correct.” The email was fodder for Fox News and conservative websites.

Last week, Saline Area Schools officials supported Davis, saying the tilt toward gender-neutral language was part of the district’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the school board trustees also backed Davis, though not all issued the same support for DEI measures such as gender-neutral language.

Board President Michael McVey offered succinct praise for Davis.

“I would rather have Kara Davis in my corner, supporting my kids, than anyone else in the world,” McVey said.

Trustee Lauren Gold said people have the right to criticize the board and criticize the school district - but said members of the community should do so with grace.

“So criticize us, criticize government, criticize the way the school is doing things, but let’s do it in a way that’s constructive and leads with some grace,” Gold said. “Even if we parents don’t always agree with each other, our kids are still going to sit in the same classrooms. That’s really what diversity, equity and inclusion is about. We all need to remember, and this includes me, how we are speaking about others in the community.”

Trustee Susan Estep chose to condemn the “hatred and bigotry” in the community.

“I will not tolerate hate and bigotry in our community. I will not tolerate hate and bigotry against students or staff and I hope you will stand with me,” Estep said.

Estep went on to say the district’s policies, drafted to make students feel welcome, must be followed.

“Everyone has to be made aware of these procedures and must be held accountable when violations occur,” Estep said.

She said the district is just starting to take action to enforce the trans and nonbinary policy approved by the board in 2021. And she asked the district not to be shy about taking action.

“I want our administration to be proud of what the board is proud of and make sure we are 100 percent behind the teachers and staff who want to do this work,” Estep said. “I want you all to push forward and don’t let the haters and bigots and Moms for Liberty and Libs of TikTok and all of those people put our district down.”

Trustee Tim Austin, the lone conservative on the board, said no educator should have to go through what Davis dealt with, but said the district had to start respecting the views of more conservative parents.

“I read some things that were absolutely appalling, some directed at staff and some directed toward community members,” Austin said. “Our staff should not have to endure these kinds of messages. Nor should anyone have to be subjected to these types of messages.”

But Austin said much of the local negative reaction to the email is from parents who feel ignored by the district.

“The flame of unrest within our community is fueled by community members feeling like their voices have been disregarded. We see this with parents moving kids to other schooling options,” Austin said.

The district’s hypersensitivity to differences causes “harm and separation” within the students, Austin said.

Austin said the district elevates ideas from committees that don’t fully reflect the community.

“We all don't have to agree on how we get there, but we should agree on kindness,” Austin said,

During public comment, Ryan Kerr, DEI specialist for the district, said he was saddened by negative responses to the district’s DEI efforts.

“(We) reject the open hostilities that have been directed towards those who would seek to build community across our differences. Instead, we affirm the work that is being done daily in this district to prepare students for success by providing equitable education and safe, inclusive communities, all well upholding stands of excellence and rigor,” Kerr said. “We support the teachers, administrators and staff members who do this work daily to improve our schools.”

Parent Sarah Fabian was a chaperone at one of the field trips to the Weber Blaess school house.

“I was surprised to see some of the gender stereotyping that went on during this field trip from the moment it began since there are children in this school, including in my son’s class, who are gender nonconforming,” she said. “The very first thing the docents did was divide students by gender and proceed to treat them differently based on this.”

She supported Davis’s message that there are ways to teach children about the time period without enacting “the very things that we’ve learned from and moved on from.”

She thanked Davis for communicating the message that students should not feel alienated during educational experiences.

Heather Rosa Finch also spoke in support of Davis and her work on DEI issues.

Tiffany Alexander said the behavior toward Davis was reprehensible.She also said she was pleased to see that people condemned the way people reacted to the Davis email.

“In the past, we have asked for that. We have asked to condemn what has happened,” Alexander said.

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so calling kids either boys or girls is now considered hate speech? These people are off their rocker. I'm so glad we pulled my youngest child out of Saline Schools after 8th grade two years ago. Pains me to have done so since I graduated from Saline in 77 as did my youngest sons older siblings in 05,08 and 12. 

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While I am happy to see the support for Kara Davis and the DEIAC, it is painful to watch after remembering the complete lack of acknowledgment of the harassment of their own board members not even a year ago. Harassment that is ongoing. Why is support given to one, and not the other? It makes my stomach turn.

I really loved the words of Gerbe, Steben, and McVey. But they didn’t make me feel better; even though I believed they meant them.

Trustee Austin almost made me believe he had finally understood the meanings behind some of these policies. He took that hope away at the end of his speech. Stating that “the district elevates ideas from committees that don’t fully reflect the community,” and in the same breath saying, “We all don't have to agree on how we get there, but we should agree on kindness,”

I agree on the kindness part.

The problem is, Mr. Austin assumes we are all trying to get to the same place.

We are not.

Mr. Austin also wrongly asserted that the ideas being presented by the district don’t fully represent the community.

Of course they do. The majority of it, anyway. It will never reflect all of it, that is impossible. But that isn’t the problem here.

The problem is that several of the people feeling they are not being “heard” is because what they have to say is abhorrent. They absolutely can be HEARD, but they won’t be listened to. Denigrating, dehumanizing, hateful, regressive, and dangerous opinions and ideas don’t deserve a platform. No one needs to listen to hate.

If the board has decided to start publicly supporting the educational staff that is great; I hope it continues.

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