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Farming for dirt on new Salem-Keizer superintendent, local extremists step on several rakes
In the hours after announcing Andrea Castañeda's hiring, rumor mill hummed with disinformation
Right-wing goons and anti-education activists took aim at freshly hired Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent Andrea Castañeda this week - showcasing their collective ability to Google names, but highlighting their continued lack of reading comprehension.
The spigot of disinformation about Castañeda and her work history in Tulsa, OK - where she most recently served as Chief Talent and Equity Officer in Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) - spread through Facebook comment threads quickly after the announcement.
Most of the propaganda centered around a few topics, including older investigations and more recent audits into officials in Tulsa Public Schools. Some suggested Castañeda was implicated or at fault with respect to her role as point person for the initial portion of TPS’s COVID-19 response management.
Others took issue with the completely by-the-books, standard, deliberately thorough process Salem-Keizer School Board used to select the new district leader.
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All of it, as you might have guessed, is pretty much bullshit
Let’s quickly get up to speed:
Castañeda most recently held a series of leadership position in Tulsa Public Schools (TPS). She is a highly trained education administrator. And she comes most recently from a medium/large school district plagued by highly politicized sparring between the district and an extreme right-wing state government in Oklahoma.
Yes, there have been investigations at TPS. Yes, there are audits being done on district finances. But Castañeda hasn’t even been implicated in any potential wrongdoing, much less involved.
But that isn’t stopping local right-wing scholars from simply fabricating a history of embezzlement and wrongdoing to describe Castañeda’s tenure in TPS.
And they have help from a kindred spirit from Tulsa - hand-feeding the locals political propaganda about Castañeda.
One of these people, Melissa Remington, is part of a group called Tulsa Parents Voice - essentially the Tulsa version of our own extremist, anti-public education groups like SK We Stand Together or Oregon Moms Union. Here she is in the comment section of local reporting, just one comment of several she left on seemingly every news piece published on Facebook about Castañeda’s hire:
And, of course, our local disinformation ecosystem quickly picked up on Remington’s planted propaganda and ran with it.
Here, we see former a former Salem-Keizer teacher and active member of the christofascist SK We Stand group amplifying a local dumbass who simply makes up an entire fictional story about Castañeda’s departure from TPS.
Here’s another former SKSD educator again, just absolutely fabricating a narrative about Castañeda AND HE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE.
This is one of my favorite ones. Because it’s 100% wrong and the screenshot this dip shares doesn’t even support what he claims “appears” to be happening.
Would you like to know what’s really going on with TPS?
In the context of Castañeda’s leaving TPS for the top spot at Salem-Keizer schools, here’s a far more factual way to describe it:
Newly hired Salem-Keizer Superintendent leaves Tulsa, OK, public school system under siege by extremist legislators and state officials
I think it’s safe to say not many of us in Oregon pay specific attention to the political climate in Oklahoma (Ed note: for our right-wing scholars, that’s the state where you’d find Tulsa).
State lawmakers in Oklahoma are furiously advancing bills targeting LGBTQ+ populations and aggressively seeking to groom K-12 curriculum and libraries to conform to their own right, christofascist ideals.
It’s not hard to imagine why Castañeda might be interested in pursuing other opportunities outside Oklahoma when the new state Superintendent of Public Instruction is determined to infuse Christianity into public schools through prayer.
Or maybe Castañeda wasn’t super thrilled that the right-wing captured state government seems to punish Tulsa Public Schools even when they’ve admittedly done nothing wrong. The punishment, by the way, was also based on carefully presented disinformation that was eventually exposed by local journalists in Tulsa.
Would you feel comfortable being an educational professional in a state where elected officials will target your livelihood because you shared a QR code? Extremist right-wing Republicans in Oklahoma are using House Bill 1775 to demolish public education; terrorize educators and administrators; and instead build conservative indoctrination centers where only certain, approved topics can be taught - as long as they don’t offend christofascist state officials.
What about Castañeda’s role in COVID-19 response while at TPS?
One of the persistent pieces of disinformation suggests that Castañeda was somehow implicated in an investigation of TPS administering federal COVID-19 funding.
The investigation was requested by Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, but it seems to be more of a political attack than anything else.
TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist and district officials announced in July 2022 they were investigating $20,000 of private funding used to pay a vendor 2 years prior and related to the operations side of the district’s Talent Management Department.
Castañeda had only taken the position of Chief Talent and Equity Officer at TPS earlier this year - meaning her connection to this investigation seems to be…nothing.
The TPS investigation into the $20k of vendor payments wasn’t sufficient for two school board members - and they asked the Oklahoma Governor to open up additional investigations into TPS, including the management of federal COVID funding.
(According to Tulsa World, Castañeda “was one of the point people on TPS’ initial response to COVID-19.”)
For her part, TPS Superintenedent Gist makes a compelling argument that Governor Stitt’s decision to investigate and audit TPS finances is highly political, and likely a tactic to distract from the fact that his own administration is under federal investigation for pandemic funding management.
But here in Salem-Keizer, this highly politicized set of investigations that seems to have nothing at all to do with Castañeda is enough for our local anti-public education activists to spin disinformation into the public discourse.
Was the process Salem-Keizer School Board used to select Castañeda fair and open?
Of course it was. There were no surprises in this process. Honestly the claims made by disgruntled former teachers and failed school board candidates (among others) are embarrassing. You can see the exhaustive selection process detailed here.
But that didn’t stop local christofascist and leader of anti-public education group SK We Stand Together from making wild accusations against the process; against Salem-Keizer School Board Chair Ashley Carson Cottingham; and even managed to top it off with some racist bullshit!
Chandragiri took to his own Facebook page after the announcement of Castañeda’s hiring to both take his portion of credit for the selection, and to assure his Republican base that the selection process was fair.
Why is any of this important to know?
What we saw in the wake of Castañeda’s hiring was our own right-wing local disinformation system trying to find its bearings.
With school board elections in May 2023, they are trying desperately to establish the narrative that Salem-Keizer schools are doomed and only far-right activists, anti-LGBTQ+ degenerates & bigots can save us from the perpetually evil progressive left.
Just like these people relentlessly attacked the outgoing Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent Christine Perry during her tenure, they need to make Castañeda some type of villain.
They are going to use the disinformation detailed above to do just that. The better equipped the rest of us are to disrupt the flow of propaganda from this spigot, the more we can all focus on what really matters here - public education; the kids and families it serves; and the educators powering it all.