School board member violates protocol with email regarding masks, vaccines
In an email sent from a private account, Shelly Jarnot urges pro-mask, pro-vaccine parents to ‘crowd out’ the voices of parents on other side of debate
An email sent by Shelly Jarnot, the vice president of the Eagle County Schools Board of Education, surfaced at Wednesday’s school board meeting when a parent read the email aloud to the evening’s robust audience.
Jarnot sent the email Aug. 9 from a personal email account, something she identifies in the second sentence, writing, “While I haven’t done this before, and am unsure of the rules, I am writing from a personal email account and would prefer that you not share this message.”
The email was sent to four individual people.
Reading the email out loud at the meeting, resident Brandon Toms cited the code of ethics for the Colorado Association of School Boards, particularly a section of the code, which refers to members recusing from any topics in which a conflict of interest occurs.
“There’s a code of ethics for the school board members through the Colorado Association of School Boards,” Toms said. “Part of the duties are to encourage the free expression of opinion by all elements of the community. … Also, part of your ethics is to avoid being placed in a position of conflict of interest, take no private action that will compromise the order of the administration or respect confidentiality of information that is privileged under applicable law.”
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Jarnot’s email refers to the vaccine and mask debates, which have become commonplace at the district’s school board meetings this summer.
Wednesday’s meeting was no exception, with approximately 50 parents and community members showing up to speak during the allotted hour of public comment. Of these, only four of the nearly 25 that spoke wore masks, three of which advocated for universal masking in the schools, comments that were met by a round of boos from the crowd.
In the email, Jarnot identifies her personal stance on vaccines and masks writing: “I too am concerned about not having all students in masks when schools re-open next week. Fortunately, my only child still in our schools is a senior at the high school and has been vaccinated. Still, I do not want him around unvaccinated and unmasked students.”
She goes on to encourage “like-minded friends, family-members, and neighbors,” to attend the Aug. 11 board meeting and to arrive early enough to “crowd out their comments,” referring to the parents who have attended the meeting advocating for no-mask and no-vaccination requirements in schools.
“We have been barraged by the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers at each of the last three meetings. They arrive early and speak one after the other during our public comment,” Jarnot writes in the email, later adding, “even if you alternate with them, it will present and give voice to the other side of the argument.”
Action to be taken
At the meeting, Toms requested that Jarnot be recused from any votes or discussions regarding masks.
“That sure sounds like a conflict of interest, seems like a breach of integrity,” Toms said, following his reading of portions of the email.
According to an email from Kate Cocchiarella, the Eagle County Board of Education president, portions of the email Jarnot sent “do not adhere to the ethical standards prescribed in our Board Policies (GP-9), nor the Code of Ethics defined by the Colorado Association of School Boards.”
“Shelly and I will have a one-on-one meeting and discuss the violations and chart a course forward. The board will address the matter at the next board meeting,” Cocchiarella wrote. The next board meeting is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m.
Typically the protocol around board emails, according to Cocchiarella, holds that the president is responsible for replying on behalf of the board to emails sent to the entire board.
“This way there is a unified response to community input. The board speaks with one voice. I reply all, so that the entire board sees my answer,” she wrote. “One of our norms is that all members read and consider carefully all correspondence we receive from the community, even though they do not send an individual response.”
Jarnot did acknowledge this protocol in the first sentence of her email, writing that “Normally, Kate Cocchiarella, our board president responds to all inquiries that are sent to all school board members on behalf of the group.”
While the email did violate policy, Jarnot was not recused from any portion of Wednesday’s meeting. Thus far, no public votes have been made by the school district on COVID-19 protocols or mandates. This is something Cocchiarella does not expect to change.
“There was no vote to recuse her from,” Cocchiarella wrote.
The decisions on mask mandates and pandemic protocols are being made by district leadership in coordination with Eagle County Public Health and the Environment.
“We will continue to work with public health and monitor data on a regular basis and adjust the decision on face masks, if and when, public health tells us it’s time to make a change. If it’s tomorrow, so be it,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman at Wednesday’s meeting. Qualman noted several times that the district leadership has been in almost daily contact with public health officials.
Friday evening, the direction from public health changed course due to climbing incidence rates in Eagle County. Starting the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 16, masks will be required for all students, teachers, staff and visitors at all buildings where students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade are present when schools open for the academic year.
At this time, Jarnot does not have a public comment regarding the email but plans to make a statement at the next board meeting.
Jarnot’s seat on the board is one of five up for election in November. Both Jarnot and Cocchiarella’s seats are term-limited, and as such neither can be re-elected. Jarnot has been a member of the school board since 2013.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.