(PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The leader of the Sherwood School District came to the defense of a school administrator whose comments at a recent meeting drew criticism on social media.

Melissa Baran provoked the ire of some listeners when she stated at a Wednesday, Jan. 20, work session of the Sherwood School Board that the education system has roots in racism and oppression.

The work session focused on rethinking high school in a post-pandemic era. Baran, who is Sherwood High School’s principal, gave a presentation to school board members.

“We know that there is so much good that’s been coming out of Sherwood High School for such a long time,” Baran said. “We also know that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working for every student, for every family, for every community member, for every staff member.”

Baran continued, “Historically, our under-represented students, our most vulnerable students that are experiencing a variety of different circumstances, that the system hasn’t been working for them.”

She added, “Education as a whole was built on the system of oppression and white supremacy, and we are trying to talk about that more. And we’re trying to really examine what is the system moving forward, and how do we make sure that what we’re doing doesn’t perpetuate those differences — doesn’t perpetuate those gaps that we have been talking about as a district for a long time.”

Some Sherwood School District parents reacted negatively to Baran’s comments, taking to social media to voice their complaints. One since-deleted post on the popular “Sherwood Community Info Group (Original)” Facebook page derided Baran, who is Black, as a “BLM Marxist.”

That post sparked a strong response from Heather Cordie, the district’s superintendent.

“During that presentation to the board, Mrs. Baran shared true facts — specifically, that the system of education in general, in its current format, does not work for all students, families, or staff members; that the system of education has a historical context of oppression and white supremacy; and that there is a need to move forward in a way that no longer perpetuates systematic marginalization of under-represented student groups,” Cordie wrote in a letter to the school community on Friday, Jan. 29.

Cordie panned the Facebook post that targeted Baran.

“That she would be singled out and talked about in such a horrific manner in the way that took place yesterday is unacceptable,” Cordie wrote. “Not only was she sharing what we as a leadership team know to be accurate, but she did so vulnerably — as the only black leader in our district. None of the other (white) participants in the meeting who concurred with and supported the work discussed by Mrs. Baran were singled out in this post, and this fact speaks volumes about the personal motives behind the post.”

Jason Cutsforth, the post’s author, was unavailable for comment. His wife said he was out of town this week.

Cordie wrote in her letter, “Staff and administrators throughout our district have been working to address systematic inequalities in our own organization for many years; the contributions to that work from staff members of color provides valuable, necessary, and highly relevant context to that critical work.

“The context behind this work in our district was completely ignored in yesterday’s post, making the act of singling out one staff member’s comments on the topic even more blatant in its intention to be inflammatory and personal in nature.”

Serving school families in a city that was once a Republican Party bastion on the outskirts of the Portland area, but has increasingly trended toward the Democratic Party along with Portland’s other southwestern suburbs, the Sherwood School District has been a flashpoint before between anti-racists and critics of the progressive movement in education.

Last year, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, the school district shared a list of anti-racist resources on its website. One of those resources advised readers to vote for Democrats. It was later pulled from the site, and the district apologized, saying it had not properly vetted the materials.

Competing demonstrations were held in front of the district offices in July, with an “All Kids Matter” group critical of the school district on one side of the street and a “Black Kids Matter Unity Event” on the other side, with some demonstrators holding signs supporting the school district and board.

Reached for comment on the latest controversy Monday, Feb. 1, Baran was succinct.

“Creating opportunities for success for all of our students is our focus moving forward,” the principal said. “We will continue to examine everything we are doing, with the hope and plan of building the system that best serves all students and staff within our school.”