A new layer has been added to the controversy over rising enrollment in Riverside Elementary School District 96, with parents at Ames School calling for an apology from a school board member who denounced the way she believed the school’s demographic data was being tied to its overcrowding problem at the board’s January meeting.

The comments by board member Linda Bade came during public comments regarding a proposal by the Ames faculty to relieve the school’s rising enrollment by relocating the school’s two kindergarten sections to different elementary schools in the district and to create a district-wide kindergarten section for at-risk students.

Referring specifically to a PowerPoint presentation put together for the Ames PTA by Ames Principal Colleen Lieggi that described the school’s white population as “the smallest in the district” and its black and Hispanic populations as the highest, Bade said she was offended by the inclusion of such racial demographics in the conversation about Ames’ space constraints, especially in terms of Ames against the rest of the elementary schools.

“I don’t understand why you felt the need to break that down,” she said. “It’s unnecessary. Because you keep talking about, ‘it’s what’s best for the child.’ Well, why do we have to say that someone’s African-American? So I’m reading this and I’m thinking, are you saying that people who are in the low-income categories who are African-American aren’t equal to the white children?

“This is just my opinion, because I am the mother of a Hispanic child, and I was just offended by it. All I’m saying is, a child is a child is a child. That’s not how this comes across.”

The resulting uproar from the audience, which numbered close to 80 people, was so loud that board President Cheryl Berdelle threatened to adjourn the meeting if audience members did not quiet down.

The meeting did continue, but in the days following many parents wrote to the board and administration asking for a public apology from Bade. Ames parent Mary Stimming said that by the Friday after the meeting, she knew of at least a dozen letters that had been sent out.

“We’re setting the facts straight, and asking for a public apology for implying that our principal, our community and our parents are racist,” she explained in a phone interview.

Ames PTA co-president Brooke Schwarz, who spoke in favor of the faculty proposal immediately before Bade’s comments and also wrote a letter requesting an apology, said in a later interview that she found Bade’s accusations surprising and hurtful.

“It makes me sad and disappointed,” she said. “I felt it was very wrong how they publicly portrayed our school and our principal.”

Lieggi herself is not asking for an apology. In a phone interview, she said the presentation Bade referred to was completely unrelated to the faculty proposal, and that any connection she had drawn between the two was a misunderstanding.

“I always share demographic data with the staff and parents to give a clear picture of what the status is at Ames,” she said.

Lieggi did stress, however, that Ames has always had an accepting and tolerant community, with multiple school-wide events celebrating the many different cultural traditions of the student body.

“We embrace every child, and we celebrate diversity here,” she said.

Bade did not respond to requests for comment. Others on the board and in the administration, however, said they did not think her comments warranted an apology.

Berdelle said she had personally spoken to some parents about their concerns, but, in her view, Bade had simply questioned the relevancy of the racial demographic data to the overcrowding issue. Berdelle also noted that she agreed with Bade that it doesn’t have a place in the conversation.

“I think she was trying to ask the question, ‘Why is demography data being presented in this conversation? What is relevant about that?'” she said. “The topic was overcrowding. I don’t think the demographic data is related to it.”

In a phone interview, Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson also defended Bade, saying that he agreed with her basic point that every child should be treated equally.

“What I heard from Linda’s comments is that she wanted children to be viewed as children, and she wanted the district to be ethnically blind, not ethnically conscious,” he said.

While administrators and the board may be willing to forget the incident, two weeks later, some parents still feel it hasn’t been resolved.

Schwarz said that while she doesn’t plan on bringing the issue up at the next board meeting, she does feel it was representative of the board’s relationship with the community.

“It opened my eyes to the communication, or lack thereof, between the board of education and the community,” she said.