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Superintendent in Central Oregon resigning in wake of conservative takeover of school board

Crook County Superintendent Sara Johnson in 2023. Johnson announced her intended resignation Wednesday, following the victories of three conservative board members in May.
Crook County School District
Crook County Superintendent Sara Johnson in 2023. Johnson announced her intended resignation Wednesday, following the victories of three conservative board members in May.

Three conservative school board members are set to take control of the Crook County School Board next month.

Crook County School District Superintendent Sara Johnson announced Wednesday she plans to resign next month when a newly elected conservative school board takes control.

In a blunt statement from the district, Johnson said the election of three new board members “played a significant role” in her decision.

“It’s become evident that the new board members do not share my vision or mission for district leadership and how to operate the school district,” Johnson said. “I believe we are all better when working collaboratively together and focusing on the success of every student.”

Johnson first joined the 3,000-student Crook County School District in 2017. She is now requesting the outgoing school board to approve an agreement for the mutual termination of her contract. That request will be heard at a June 12 board meeting, before the new members are sworn in on July 17.

A spokesperson for the district said Johnson is declining to comment while she is still working for the district.

The new board members — Cheyenne Edgerly, Jennifer Knight and Jessica Brumble — ran on a platform that alleged leftist ideology had seeped into the school curriculum. While providing no concrete examples of this, they each won handily, ousting three incumbents and effectively taking control of the board.

“We ran on the promise to the Crook County voters that parental rights would be valued in all aspects,” according to a Thursday statement signed by Edgerly, Knight and Brumble.

“It saddens us that Dr. Johnson can not get behind that community vision for the school.”

Their election coincides with a nationwide focus on how school curricula represent queer people and people of color. Florida recently passed a law banning all classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for all grade levels.

Tensions between Johnson and at least one of the new board members simmered long before they were elected in May. Edgerly frequently pressured Johnson and the district to eliminate its use of curriculum that discussed LGBTQ people and people of color, as OPB reported.

Emails show Johnson did little to rebuff the concerns. This advocacy led the way for a committee to once again review school curriculum, after it had already been the subject of public meetings and adopted by the school board. The process influenced the selection of specific reading materials, according to a school board member in February.

In April 2022, Johnson ended student field trips from Steins Pillar Elementary to the Crook County Library, after Edgerly accused the library of making inappropriate books available to children.

Libraries across the country have come under attack for false claims of targeting children with books about LGBTQ experiences, a common anti-queer strategy. The State Library of Oregon has documented a rise in attempts to have books removed from school and public libraries.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Joni Land