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26 February 2021

UPDATED 1 March 2021: Talent Elementary not commenting on Dutra's transphobic social media post

This screenshot is of Cassie Dutra's transphobic remarks that appeared on social media last Friday. The school district has not announced what their reaction will be.

By Brad Smith 

TALENT, Ore. -- In response to a Talent Elementary special education teaching assistant who made made a transphobic remark on social media, school officials issued this statement today: 

Phoenix-Talent Schools is aware of concerns raised about the personal opinions of an employee of the district. Although we cannot comment on internal personnel matters, our focus, as always, is on providing a supportive structure for students to ensure their opportunities to be successful. 

Our school district has a formal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy which all staff are expected to follow in the course of their professional responsibilities.

Take care,
Javier del Rio

Assistant Superintendent

Last Friday, Cassie Dutra, a special ed teaching assistant, posted transphobic remarks in a KOBI NBC 5 post about the recent LGBTQ Equality Amendment that's being addressed by the Senate. In the photo above, Dutra compared the situation to cats and dogs. A Talent Elementary employee, over the phone, confirmed Dutra worked there -- they also looked at the initial KOBI story and saw the remarks.

They also said the matter would be "looked into."

Dutra's Facebook page also has fake news stories linking President Obama and others to a conspiracy theory that SEAL Team 6 members were assassinated after killing Osama bin Laden. Other posts show that Dutra is a Covid-19 denier and opposes Gov. Kate Brown's pandemic response protocols.

According to her profile, Dutra is head instructor at Chip Wright's Champion Karate. Riley Hackett, another instructor, said that the school was "very inclusive" and provided a safe environment for all students.

"We've always had students from various cultures or held different beliefs," he said. "We teach karate and focus on the values of honesty, compassion, respect and good sportsmanship. We don't judge. We value and respect everyone. And, yes, our students -- especially our kids -- learn all of this in safe environment."

On social media, a number of parents who had their kids enrolled at the karate dojo expressed dismay over Dutra's views but said that the school certainly didn't reflect her beliefs about transgender people.

"I am a karate student at Chip Wright's," one person said in The Rogue Free Press comments. "It is a fantastic school despite the views of this instructor. I'm just putting this out there because I don't want it to hurt the school through association."

The Rogue Free Press looked at the school district's policy and found this from Section 3 and all of Section 4:

" . . . . We therefore commit to recruiting, hiring, and retaining a workforce that reflects the diversity and demographics of our student body.
4. Professional development should be designed to help staff grow professionally as well as personally. We therefore commit to providing professional development that is culturally competent, culturally responsive, and curriculum that is culturally relevant in order to affirm the identity of both students and staff."

It would seem that Dutra's transphobic views might conflict with school policy. The Rogue Free Press asked del Rio if students -- especially any transgender children -- were in a safe learning environment.

At press time, there was no response.

On social media, a number of concerned parents and even former and current special education teachers said that they contacted state officials about Dutra's remarks and sent screenshots of her posts.

Meantime, a number of area religious extremists and transphobes voiced their support of Dutra, one claimed that her comments were "benign" and another echoed transphobic remarks uttered by GOP senator Rand Paul when he attacked Rachel Levine, a transgender woman and Cabinet nominee for assistant health secretary.

However, many in the Talent community voiced their displeasure and concerns over Dutra's views and wanted her removed from her position.

24 February 2021

Talent city staffers dropped ball after Almeda Fire

City manager Spelliscy, city planner Moody failed to contact FEMA

By Brad Smith

TALENT, Ore. -- Emails from FEMA indicate that in the weeks and months following the Almeda Fire, former city manager Sandra Spelliscy and city planner Zac Moody never contacted the agency.

In articles and news segments about the current controversy about FEMA looking at locations throughout the community suitable for temporary housing -- including Chuck Roberts Park, which has upset little league parents -- interim city manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner has said, "This has been my priority from day one from my getting here. There is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done."

When asked about the situation, McLeod-Skinner said she wasn't "aware of what did or did not happen" prior to her taking over as interim city manager in January this year.

"If there were communications with other agencies, I'm not aware of it. I never had any contact with my predecessor before I took over," she said. "However, when I did reach out to some mobile park owners and regional agencies -- based on their feedback -- it was apparent that they hadn't heard from the city until I called."

According to an anonymous source -- someone who has worked as an interim city manager throughout Oregon and California over the years -- they were surprised by the apparent lack of action.

"I knew people who worked at Paradise (Calif.) and they reacted rapidly," they said. "Personally and professionally, I find it disturbing that no one took action. If they had, those FEMA trailers would be in place and displaced families living in them. A mayor can't do it all. That's why you have city staff to take the initiative and rake up the slack. That's what they're paid to do. As far as I'm concerned, someone screwed up. Badly. As it is, the city is fortunate to have (Mcleod-Skinner)."

Community development manager Moody resigned on Dec. 31 2020 and Spelliscy left in early January. When Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood was asked about events that led to Spelliscy's departure, she stated that she was "unable to comment on the reasons for separation."

As for why Spelliscy and Moody never contacted FEMA -- it might never be known. Meantime, FEMA is continuing its overview of viable locations for the temporary housing.

The Rogue Free Press has attempted to contact Moody. There has been no response.

It should be noted that Moody has been on the Phoenix-Talent Little League board and is one of the parents opposing the possible housing of displaced families at Chuck Roberts Park.

As new information comes forward, this article will be updated.

22 February 2021

Little League parents meltdown

To some parents, ballgames are more important than families

By Brad Smith

TALENT, Ore. -- Ryan James declared that he would fight for the Phoenix-Talent Little League.

"If it means that I have to get a picket sign and block (FEMA) equipment from going into the field, I'll do it," he said.

A number of people cheered and applauded afterwards.

That was the scene at a recent emergency meeting of the PTLL board meeting, held in response to an emergency Talent city council session held last Friday. Talent's interim city manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner signed off executive orders, having the city working alongside FEMA to create temporary housing for residents displaced by the Almeda Fire. FEMA would study a number of possible locations to see if they are viable for temporary housing.

One location is the south side of Chuck Roberts Park and two of its baseball fields.

"We have to move fast," McLeod-Skinner said during the Zoom meeting. "We have a window of 18 months to get this done and we're nearly six months into having our families displaced. We had to fast track this."

Should FEMA feel that the park is suitable, the agency would place power, sewer and other infrastructure in the park then move in approximately 29 trailers for the displaced families. Once the trailers aren't needed, FEMA will rebuild or replace everything removed and the park reverts back to the city.

Enter the PTLL parents.

During the Friday night Zoom meeting, some parents and "concerned" individuals -- some of whom not living in Talent -- voiced opposition to the proposal. While most claimed they were concerned about the displaced families, they were upset that kids wouldn't be able to play their games.

During the meeting and on social media, there were insinuations that Talent was doing this for money and that it wanted to get rid of the PTLL. When one media outlet released a badly written article on the situation, Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood went on social media with this post:

The purpose of the meeting (the first of several) was to begin the discussion, let everyone know that of the several contingency/back up sites, one of them could be the back parking lot/2 of 4 diamonds at CR Park. The council wasn’t “prepared to vote on this” because we can’t vote on this. There is only a discussion on the table of all the sites we need to look at and a council decision isn’t on the table, which was made clear both in the agenda as well as verbally at the meeting. FEMA hasn’t even evaluated any of the CONTINGENCY sites, of which this is only one possibility... possibility to become a backup site, one of a few back up sites. It was said at the meeting that FEMA has looked at over 300 sites. Erin Parent was there, spoke and asked questions. It was said that we would have several discussion about this among the other sites. It was said that the two mobile home parks are likely going to be used but that FEMA needs several back up sites. It was said at the meeting that are more discussion to have with neighbors and Little League. Working together seems like a better approach than taking a stand. That seems premature or someone is stoking misinformation.. It was said at the meeting that FEMA restores what they demolish. I can understand with only 4 years left on the lease, they have concerns but wouldn’t that be a more positive place to start the lease renegotiations around brand new diamonds? I feel like that is not likely because my money is on FEMA never needing them, but if they do, a petition war, which side has the biggest petition seems unproductive.

And in an email to media outlets:

I hope to add clarity when I say that The City of Talent hasn’t chosen any site with FEMA yet. We are viewing several sites with FEMA, one of which is just two of the four diamonds at Chuck Robert’s park. We will also be showing FEMA another site at Chuck Robert’s park, while we continue to look for more site, all of which will serve as possible contingency sites. Contingency in case any of the two mobile home parks, which actually are chosen, don’t fill the need or fall through. I appreciate the concerns but we are pretty far from “chosen” at this point.

Please accept this email as an introduction to Jamie McLeod-Skinner who is Talent’s Interim City Manager. She is working her heart out to provide FEMA with as many “back up” sites as possible so if something falls through, we can still bring our families home without losing more time. I particularly appreciate that she is sharing her work with the community, so we can prepare every contingency for our people to be safe and sheltered in their hometown.

However, some of the PTLL weren't having it.

It should be noted that a number of parents did say that of it came down to a choice between kids playing ball or families coming home -- they would choose the families.

James and others weren't so gracious.

"They can go somewhere else," he said. "I played ball on these fields. So will my kids. I'm going to fight for that!"

As a number of others spoke out against the FEMA proposal, one person noted: "It's like a parade of middle-aged men who have lived mediocre lives and Springsteen's 'Glory Days' is their personal anthem. It's sad."

However, a representative from the Medford Little League was on hand. She said that it could be possible the PTLL could use their fields. It was something the two organizations could talk about at a later time.

Some parents said that if they had assurances that the park would still be accessible to the PTLL, they were fine with the proposed plan.

Meantime, scores of Talent residents are scattered throughout the Rogue Valley. Some are in motels and temporary housing. Others are living in cars or have been camping in tents the last few months. Some are struggling with red tape as they deal with insurance companies and government bureaucracy. It's shocking that as the six month anniversary of the Almeda Fire nears, there are elements in Talent determined to keep families from returning.

Months ago, people were declaring "Talent Strong."

Now, it's "Talent NIMBY."

09 February 2021

Medford bakery owner thinks transphobia 'is very funny'

Top is the Facebook post made by Erica Bryan on Jan. 26. Below is the response received on Feb. 9. Bryan hung up after The Rogue Free Press attempted to call her. An Ashland business owner posted the same meme. Below is her response.

By Brad Smith 

MEDFORD, Ore. -- By late Monday afternoon, a transphobic Facebook post from local business owners was making the rounds on social media -- in a negative manner.

Erica Bryan, owner of Sweet Stuff Bakery, and Steve Barnard, A Street Print and Parcel, posted the same transphobic meme on Jan. 26. Below is Barnard's post.

The Rogue Free Press called the bakery and Bryan refused to comment. However, she later posted on social media:

Bryan admits to making the post and that it's "very funny." However, transphobia is very harmful.

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there was a 2011 study of depression among male-to-female transgender women with a history of sex work (THSW). During this study, a total of 573 THSW who worked or resided in San Francisco or Oakland, Calif., were recruited through street outreach and referrals and completed individual interviews using a structured questionnaire.

The results were compelling. More than half of Latina and White participants were depressed on the basis of Center For Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale scores. About three quarters of White participants reported ever having suicidal ideation, of whom 64 percent reported suicide attempts. Half of the participants reported being physically assaulted and 38 percent reported being raped or sexually assaulted before age 18 years. White and African American participants reported transphobia experiences more frequently than did others. Social support, transphobia, suicidal ideation, and levels of income and education were significantly and independently correlated with depression.

The Human Rights Campaign has been tracking violence against transgender people and 2020 saw more than 44 transgender individuals killed. That information can be found here:

Unfortunately, suicide rates among transgender teens have also been increasing:

In short, this sort of behavior is not funny.

One hopes that Bryan and others like her will, eventually, understand that their words and actions can and do cause harm to others.

02 February 2021

Trophy Club article has been updated!

 The Trophy Club article has been updated with new information.

The racist slur has been removed. The bar owners issued a lame attempt at an apology. And, the main reason they took down the message was due to alleged "death threats" received via telephone.

At press time, it's uncertain if the bar owners filed a report with local law enforcement.

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