SCHENECTADY — Two weeks after being accused of using students to advance her political agenda, Board of Education member Jamaica Miles on Wednesday again pushed back on the claim and accused board leadership of playing politics by failing to approach her privately before making defamatory statements about her publicly.
Miles made the remarks after reading an April 12 letter she said she received from school board president Cathy Lewis and vice president Bernice Rivera that laid out a number of past behavioral concerns that date back to last November, including Miles’ alleged involvement in a pair of student walkouts at the high school over block scheduling and the recent decision to expand a community engagement officer program.
“Your actions are inconsistent with your duty and obligation to act constructively and collaboratively as a board member,” the letter reads. “As we criticize your recent actions, we fully recognize the challenges facing the district. With them come difficult decisions for the board and staff. We support a robust dialogue and the rights for all to voice opinions. Simultaneously, we expect board members to act productively and constructively.”
Miles apologized if some of her past criticisms of the board came off “in a way that was disrespectful,” but denied any involvement in planning the student protests and questioned why it took months for the board’s leadership to reach out expressing their concerns.
“Let’s not pretend this is something other than your agenda,” Miles told the board. “They didn’t even have the respect to actually call me in, not to call me out. That speaks volumes on your positions and how you feel, because that was opportunistic.”
Lewis and Rivera declined to comment on the letter and Miles’ decision to read it publicly, but Lewis noted she has attempted to reach out to Miles previously but never received a call back.
“I made some phone calls, but I certainly didn’t document the phone calls when certain things came up,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you when.”
The incident comes two weeks after Rivera publicly accused Miles — a prominent activist and co-founder of the group All of Us — of using students to advance her political agenda after reading a Gazette report where a student credited Miles for providing her with the knowledge necessary to hold an April 6 protest at the high school where dozens of students walked out of class over a school board decision to place up to six police officers in city school over the next three years.
The board narrowly approved the expanded community engagement officer program in a 4-3 vote back in March.
Miles was critical of the program in the lead up to the vote, and has said the board’s decision sacrificed the mental well-being of some students to make others feel safe.
She added that students reached out to her seeking advice on how to safely hold the protest after they already decided to walkout. Failing to provide advice would have been akin to working to silence their voices, Miles said.
Login Abudalla, a high school senior and one of the organizers of the protest, said she reached out to Miles for support and criticized Rivera for her remarks during the public comment period.
“If you find it hard to believe that students don’t have minds of their own, then you don’t know the students of this district at all,” she said. “We wanted her (Miles) intake to make this a more organized walkout. If the district wanted to avoid — which they did — chaos during that walkout, you should be thanking Ms. Miles.”
Miles, meanwhile, said Rivera misinterpreted the situation and said Rivera jumped to conclusions and failed to confront her privately before she made her remarks publicly.
“I am not using students in any capacity for gain. I am insulted by the accusation and defamation of my character,” she said. “I was on the high school grounds as a witness to the student-led activity.”
Rivera said her remarks were a matter of transparency and remains hopeful that the board can work together moving forward.
“If we’re the adults we say we are, we need to move past this,” she said.
The letter also stated that Miles participated in a protest on Nov. 6, 2021, when a group of high school students walked out of class in protest of a newly implemented block scheduling pattern.
But Miles said she was driving by the high school when she saw students walking out of class and pulled over to learn more about the situation and to talk to students, which she said aligns with her duties as a board member.
She added that she had heard rumors of a walkout but was unaware of when it would take place.
“I stopped to learn what was going on. I listened to the voice of the students who were sharing issues and concerns,” Miles said. “My actions stood in line with my open commitment to keep myself informed about issues concerning and impacting the students and families we represent.”
Miles went on to say that she hopes the board can move forward and noted that if the board had any intentions of having her removed it would undermine the will of the voters.
Lewis, meanwhile, said there are no intentions to have Miles removed.
“She’s elected like the rest of us,” she said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.