Superintendent of Public Education Elsie Arntzen on Wednesday condemned “any statements or acts of violence” as “serious” following a comment made at a meeting in Missoula to “shoot” school superintendents.
Lawyer Quentin Rhoades, who answered a question about dealing with superintendents with a smile and, “Shoot them?” Said he joked at Monday night’s meeting, and the crowd responded similarly.
Nonetheless, Arntzen in a statement denounced the comment. The Republican superintendent was headlining at the parental rights in education action meeting, which drew nearly 100 people, but was not in the room during the exchange.
“I condemn any statement or act of violence in any context,” Arntzen said in a press release from the Montana Office of Public Instruction. “The individual comments of others made at the Missoula parental rights event on November 1, 2021 at Crosspoint Community Church were egregious. These types of comments are not used to defend the voice of parents in our field of public education.
“I was not aware of the comments made after speaking as I had moved down the hall to answer individual questions. I learned about these comments in an article from Tuesday, November 2, 2021 in the Helena Independent Record. I contacted specific superintendents in the Missoula area to express my disdain for these comments made at an event where I was the first speaker. “
Arntzen had spoken to community members who expressed frustration with mask warrants and public school officials, as she has done at other events in Montana. Attendees also spoke about plans to promote more charter school options in Montana and to challenge open school board seats.
Following news of the “shoot” comment, Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson asked in a tweet how the remark was received.
“As an MCPS back-up, I usually use Twitter to celebrate our kids and staff, so it’s new to me. A simple question for@SuptArntzensince she was at that meeting and not me, when the joke was made about shooting the superintendents, did she laugh? Watson tweeted.
Some public education officials have been harassed because of COVID-19 restrictions in Montana. Watson did not provide further comment on Wednesday, but in a statement provided by the district communications specialist, Missoula County Public Schools said the violence in schools was no joke.
“At MCPS, we were shocked and disheartened to hear that Mr. Rhoades told a room full of people to ‘shoot them’ in reference to our area superintendents,” MCPS said in the statement. “Advocating violence is never a joke, and bringing it up to public school officials who work every day to keep students safe in the school environment is particularly troubling.
“In the future, we hope that threats and suggestions of violence will not be part of the discussions related to the provision of educational services to our children.”
At the meeting, Mike Gehl, appointed Missoula County Public School Trustee and one of the speakers, explained to attendees how to run for office. He highlighted the support he had received from Arntzen to do this.
At one point in the meeting, he asked Rhoades, who represents the parents in legal challenges over the mask warrants, to remind him of what the lawyer had said in the past about what to do with the mask warrants. superintendents.
Rhoades said, with a smile, “Shoot them down?” In response, Gehl said, “Pull them up. “
Rhoades said on Wednesday he was playing with words and said the conversation about the superintendent’s “dismissal” was akin to “relieving him of his duties”, not hurting him. He said he felt the question was asked “in a pleasant way”, and he answered in the same way.
In 2020, the United States killed 24 in 96 incidents of shooting on school grounds, according to Everytown, an organization that tracks gun violence in the country. However, Rhoades said he wasn’t shy about making the comment because Montana has its own relationship with guns.
“It’s pretty well established in Montana, and it has been in Montana, that there is a different gun culture than most places,” he said. “And our gun laws reflect that. We have constitutional support and that sort of thing.
He also said that if the discussion was serious or if specific people had been named, a joke would not have been appropriate.
“I just think any sort of feigned outrage is more opportunistic than anything else because of the nature of the exchange and the way it got caught up in the room,” Rhoades said.