Keystone board member laments divided community

Trisha Dixon

KNOX - Keystone School Board member Trisha Dixon, defeated in a re-lection bid by write-in candidate Randall "Buck" Weaver, said Nov. 15 she hopes the community and the school district can recover from a divisive election.

"At the end of the day, we need to ask what's best and our answer needs to be local unity -- despite division and differences in opinion," said Dixon.

Weaver, Jason Say and Jason McMillan launched write-in campaigns about a month ago as protests to masking mandates and other COVID-19 protocols followed by the Keystone School Board. Those protocols are based on mandates handed down by the state Department of Health and Department of Education.

Weaver and Say won their write-in bids while Stacey Thompson was re-elected over McMillan's effort.

Dixon noted turn-out for the election was around 49 percent of registered voters.

Dixon lost to Weaver by 185 votes. Incumbent Randy Burr II lost to Say, who led the write-in campaign effort, by 64 votes.

Earlier in the meeting, Say used the public comment portion of the meeting to proclaim the election was "a pretty loud and clear message" to the board to adhere to the "My Kid My Choice" group's demand to drop the masking requirement.

"I am disappointed that the quiet majority remained silent," said Dixon. "Less than half of registered voters' voices spoke at the polls. Less than half voted. Twenty-seven percent of all of residents in our district. Winning by 64 votes doesn't represent the majority."

Dixon said she remains confident the board has acted in the best interests of students and taxpayers.

"A few board meetings ago -- the one where a passionate group of concerned citizens and parents disrespected those who opposed them for having a different opinion -- the meeting where people were demanding their freedom but removing those rights from those with opposing view -- one local mother spoke and asked the question ‘Is this the best plan?'

"The plan being that if the group didn't get what they wanted, they would pull kids and put them into cyber (school) knowing that it isn't the best for their kids' learning and understanding that it would affect the district financially. That would be the pressure spoken about frequently. Followed by the threat of taking over seats on the board. Again pressuring those up for re-election to vote this group's way."

Dixon said the group apparently believed applying that pressure would get what they wanted at that point --no masks.

"Nobody likes ultimatums," said Dixon. "Our board that night, while being called cowards and asked to step aside, showed great courage in voting for what was in the best interest for the district and community as a whole and not bowing to the pressure imposed upon them.

"It became apparent that there was no point in trying to explain or inform when people came to speak but not to listen."

Dixon said she has heard a great deal of intentions from "anti-mandate candidates" but no real plans.

"What we have evidence of is that they will work against the state, against Harrisburg, and against the district -- against the kids, call it what it is," said Dixon. "None of this is for the kids."

Dixon said one write-in candidate created a group with a goal to pressure the board to vote no to a mask mandate, and gave people a plan to accomplish that.

"Knowing there were detrimental consequences, whether from the state or from this social media group, he continued to lead the charge anyway," said Dixon. "This turned into a lose-lose situation. Anyone knows that you weigh the costs and, when our kids are involved, we need to take them even more seriously.

"So, a group not only chose to attack a convenient target, the local school board, but they chose to turn the state's eyes on us through social media, making any alternative decision almost impossible to even consider."

Dixon said the protest over a masking mandate grew to a "no vaccine mandate" to a claim of fighting for local control.

"Those are three different points. Three different goals. What was the plan?" said Dixon. "What are the measurable outcomes? What has happened to indicate success in any of these areas? At the end of the day, I think it really came down to feelings of frustration, lack of control, and a perceived loss of freedom."

Dixon said those plans created division among families while the concept of freedom was relative, being that it only applied to a singular perspective, as evidenced through "petty comments" and social media attacks, misinformed and misleading letters and speeches to the board and administrators and individuals cherry-picking policies.

Moving forward

Dixon also highlighted the positives she said she has experienced while serving for eight years on the board.

"Collectively as a diverse administration and school board, we have been laser-focused on our school community's health and safety throughout this pandemic and I am proud to say that I have served on this board and am proud of the decisions I've made," said Dixon.

Dixon said it has been a honor to serve on the board, governing based on the overall health, safety, and welfare of the students and community at the core of every decision.

"I feel I can say for certainty that there are no personal agendas on this current board," said Dixon. "Overall, people see reports of the board's final decisions, but they don't see the inner turmoil when making these decisions.

"From where I sat, decisions were unbiased which made votes puzzling to the public. We left our personal opinions ultimately at the door."

Dixon said the board worked as a team, even when as individual members they might have disagreed.

"As a woman, a current educator, and one of the newer members of the board, you never made me feel unwelcomed, unappreciated, or unequal. I value that," said Dixon. "From here, I pray for strength to endure the struggle and for courage to make the difficult choices to do what is best for our district -- students, teachers, support staff administrative staff, janitorial staff, volunteers, secretarial staff -- and our community -- parents, grandparents, those without children, businessmen and women, and community partners.

"We, as a community, continually find ourselves in rough days with conflicting perspectives where disagreeing has become a driving force for division and with one-sided, proposed solutions without regard for the entire district's health, safety, and welfare.

"My hope is that we can find common ground to stand on without playing tug of war where one side is trying to win over the other. This isn't a game and we need to drop the rope and see that our kids are the ones in the middle suffering more than anything."

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