Dr. Liza Sejkora drew sharp criticism for comments she made on Facebook immediately following the death of Kobe Bryant
CAMAS — It has been a week people in Camas never saw coming. A firestorm of backlash, prompted by 14 words and a shrug emoji posted by the principal of Camas High School on the afternoon basketball legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
“Not gonna lie. Seems to me that Karma caught up with a rapist today,’’ wrote Dr. Liza Sejkora.
An hour later, as the full scope of the tragedy became clear, including the fact that Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was among the dead, Sejkora deleted her initial post and followed up with another.
“I just deleted a post. It was deleted because the comments missed my Intent,” she wrote. “You are free to judge me for the post just as I am free to judge the person the post was about. Also — if you are shocked I speak my mind on my page, I am honestly surprised.”
A short time later, Sejkora also deleted that post, but screenshots began to circulate and a maelstrom of backlash welled up from the Camas community, and around the world.
On Monday of this week, Sejkora made a more public apology, calling her statements “thoughtless,” and “a poor decision.”
With threats posted online and the school embroiled in the controversy, Camas Schools Superintendent Jeff Snell made the decision to place Sejkora on paid administrative leave.
On Thursday, nearly a hundred students marched out of the school in protest over Sejkora’s comments, calling them an “underrepresentation” of their view. While chanting Kobe’s name, they decried their principal’s comments.
On Friday morning, with heightened security on campus, a parent spotted two people on the Camas High School grounds who, they thought, did not appear to be students. Snell says security personnel located two people they thought matched the description but, after seeing a cellphone photo, determined it wasn’t the same people the parent reported.
That prompted a decision to put the school into lockdown, Snell says. Students who were already in the building were asked to take shelter in classrooms, and buses still enroute were diverted to the bus barn until the all clear could be given.
That happened after the two students who were spotted were located, and it was determined they were not a threat.
“They were amazing students,” said Snell at a Friday afternoon press conference. “In fact, one of them, the teacher told me, … said, ‘I’m just glad that they take safety seriously.’”
Snell says he placed Sejkora on administrative leave to try and prevent the distraction at school, and maintains she made the decision to step down.
“She cares a lot about our community, she loved being principal at Camas High School,” said Snell. “She loves the students and staff. And I’m sure as she’s seen things unfold, that probably factored into her resignation.”
Snell has been acting as interim principal at Camas High School this week, and said he will likely continue in that capacity at least through the first half of next week. Beyond that, existing staff will rally to pick up the slack, and a process will begin to search for a new principal.
“To have a change mid-year is definitely out of the ordinary, and it will challenge existing staff to try to figure that out,” Snell said. “Also, when you’re looking around for a brand new principal, most great principals are working right now. They have jobs, they’re serving school communities, and so that’s most likely why we’ll go in an interim direction and then figure out where to go from there.”
Students, meanwhile, are eager to get back to something resembling normal, said Snell.
“One student told me ‘I just want to learn the French Revolution,’” he said. “You know, that was something that they were supposed to be learning about, and it was getting delayed and sidetracked.”
Snell said he’s also heard many students express concern for Sejkora, and for her safety with some of the social media comments and threats.
“Whether they agreed or disagreed, she’s somebody that they know and they’re worried about her and her family,” he said. “And then they’re worried about each other. You know, they’re trying to figure that out.”
Snell added that any students who stayed home this week out of a concern for their safety will receive an excused absence, but he’s hopeful most students will return to class next week.
“I know our students, they want a normal week,” he said. “You know, they’re really looking forward to that.”
Parents have felt the same. Tina Sillers has a daughter in the 11th grade at Camas High and says it’s been a rough week for everyone.
“This has been hard to sit by and watch unfold in the news media locally and across the country,” she said. “We are grateful the kids are safe and that there was no real threat the past few days, but the kids are confused and sad and this community is hurting right now for many reasons.”
Asked what he believes students would want people outside the area to know about Camas in light of these events, Snell said they would want it made clear that “this isn’t Camas.”
“I heard that over and over from students that they’re really proud of their school,” Snell said. “They’re really proud of their town. They felt like they were being portrayed in a negative way. And they felt that that was unfair.”
While some classes may have been delayed with things in chaos this week, Snell says there still have been plenty of teachable moments.
“Anytime you have a leader that makes a mistake publicly and goes through that with the community is really challenging,” he said. “So there’s learning going on for sure. But not the same kind of learning that you would expect on a day to day basis at our schools.”