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Bourne School Committee member facing possible recall over posts opponents call 'hate-mongering'

Bourne Public Schools
Bourne School Committee member Kari MacRae is facing a possible recall vote over social media posts.

A member of the Bourne School Committee is facing a possible recall vote over social media posts that her opponents call an act of discrimination. CAI reporter Jennette Barnes talked with host Patrick Flanary about the situation on Tuesday’s Morning Edition.

Flanary: In the town of Bourne, there’s a recall effort underway to remove a member of the School Committee based on personal views she posted on social media. Bourne residents and teachers have called on Kari MacRae to resign from the School Committee. She says she was fired from her teaching job at Hanover High School over the same issue. CAI reporter Jennette Barnes talked with MacRae and a leader of the recall effort. Jennette joins us now to tell us more about what’s been happening. Jennette, good morning. Thanks for joining us.

Barnes: Good morning, Patrick.

Flanary: First, remind us what this controversy is about. Kari MacRae’s social media posts addressed race and gender identity, correct?

Barnes: Yes. She has posted some memes and videos. But the main focus has been on a particular TikTok video. And in that video, Kari MacRae is shown at what appears to be the polling place, voting for herself for the Bourne School Committee last May, and then it cuts to her in the car talking about why she ran. She ran unopposed, by the way, so there was very little attention paid to that race. In the video in the car, she lists three main reasons for running. I’m going to quote them here — so these are her words: She said she was running “to ensure that students, at least in our town, are not being taught critical race theory,” and “that they’re not being taught that the country was built on racism,” and then in the same sentence, she says, “so they’re not being taught that they can choose whether or not they want to be a girl or a boy.” Endquote. So we have two main ideas there — education about racism and its role in our national history, and then, gender identity.

Flanary: OK. You talked with Kari MacCrae. She says she’s not racist [and] she’s not transphobic. So what did she have to say about these remarks?

Barnes: Well, you’re right. She feels she’s not discriminating. But she believes that educational directives coming down from the state focus too much on race and are divisive. Here’s some of what she said about that:

MacRae: It's victimizing people of different ethnic backgrounds and races, and, you know, kind of addressing white — the white race — as being the, you know, oppressors and people of minorities being oppressed. … And if we keep focusing on race, race, race, you have, you know, some children that are literally coming home saying, “Am I racist because I'm white?”

Flanary: That’s Kari MacRae, who’s the subject of a recall petition for her seat on the Bourne School Committee. Jennette, it seems like this recall effort is focusing more on her remarks about gender identity. Why is that?

Barnes: Well, MacRae’s opponents say her comment about gender identity violates the school district’s non-discrimination policy. On race, she uses the term “critical race theory,” which has become kind of a buzzword among some people on the political right — essentially, people who don’t want schools to acknowledge systemic racism. But critical race theory is not just about that. It’s a specific academic concept that’s taught mainly at the college and graduate level. So people in Bourne have said, well, we’re not teaching that, exactly, and MacRae’s opinion about it is not a policy violation per se.

Flanary: So, when you were speaking with her, how did she explain those remarks about gender identity?

Barnes: Well, she said trans youth should be supported, but she used the word “choice” a few times — suggesting that teaching about gender identity makes it too mainstream, or a choice.

MacRae: I think teaching it as a choice is where it gets a little bit confusing because children struggle in general, just with figuring out who they are. And I think that introducing and saying that these are things that you can choose, to the masses, becomes a little bit dangerous.

Barnes: So at one point she mentioned the suicide rate among trans youth, and so I asked her what she would say if someone suggested that without education on gender identity, a student could feel alone and isolated. And her response was that getting support from a guidance counselor could be the way to handle that.

Flanary: Getting support from a guidance counselor. OK, so Kari MacRae has also announced she’ll run as a Republican for the state Senate. But it’s early — it’s way early — to pull nomination papers, isn’t it?

Barnes: Right, yes, And I asked her why she’s running for state Senate, and she said it’s essentially for the same reasons we’re talking about here.

Flanary: So, more immediately, we have her possible recall unfolding in Bourne. Who’s behind the recall petition?

Barnes: Well, it’s led by former School Committee members, and Anne-Marie Siroonian is kind of at the forefront of it. She served on the School Committee before, for eight years, and she said that if the recall succeeds, she will run for the seat. She told me the recall group does’t want MacRae to define the Bourne Public Schools with a statement of discrimination, and that MacRae’s views violate children’s civil rights to access public education regardless of who they are.

Siroonian: The big issue, and the driving force for us in this recall, is holding her accountable for the consequences of her act of discrimination towards our LBGTQI-Plus community. The hate-mongering on social media, not once, but several times, and the emotional distress that she brought against our students, staff, teachers, parents and community is just one consequence.

Flanary: So there are other consequences, I guess, Jennette, what she’s referring to there.

Barnes: Right. She said the Bourne schools had to hire someone, actually, to handle all the information requests related to a lawsuit involving MacRae. The lawsuit isn’t against the Bourne district; it’s against the Hanover schools. That’s where MacRae worked. She was fired from her teaching job at Hanover High School, which she says is because of her social media posts. So, hence the lawsuit there. Here’s Anne-Marie Siroonian again, talking about that:

Siroonian: The political watchdog group taking on her case in Hanover has caused some undue additional stress to School Committee and taking away the focus from learning and teaching to the point where they had to hire an additional person just to manage the amount of information that the defense team is requiring of our school district. … That's money taken away from the education of our students.

Flanary: So what’s the status of this recall effort right now?

Barnes: They have to collect signatures twice. And the first process is going on now. They need the first 250 signatures on an affidavit requesting a recall petition. They submit those, which they expect to do in mid January. Then, after the town clerk certifies the signatures, they receive the actual petition — the recall petition. They have 45 days to get signatures on that, and they need 10 percent of registered voters, which is roughly 1,500 signatures. So they do have some work ahead of them there in Bourne.

Flanary: CAI reporter Jennette Barnes. Jennette, thanks so much for coming on Morning Edition and breaking this down for us.

Barnes: Thanks for having me, Patrick.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.
Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.