The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 transgender policy draws more public ire
By Seth Hancock
“The board is not constituted to hear public comments,” said School District U-46 Board of Education member Traci Ellis as she and the board’s majority made it clear they will not listen to dissent and apparently Christians may not be welcome, by some, in the district on Monday, Oct. 3.
What could be stated as timing is everything as the board heard for a third straight meeting from a large segment of the public, by a 39-7 margin this time, that opposes the recent change in practice regarding transgender bathroom/locker room access. In response, the board’s majority ignored their concerns and changed the board’s practice on public comments to relegate the public to the end of meetings.
By a 4-3 vote (Phil Costello, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voting no), the board approved cutting short public comments from three to two minutes if “more than 20 speakers” come to address the board. Public comments will be split as well with those speaking on agenda items before the business portion and those with general comments at the end of the meeting.
Costello and Holt initially said it may be “reasonable” when Donna Smith and Sue Kerr, the board’s president and vice president, told the rest of the board they were working on this change alone at the previous meeting on Sept. 26.
After having time to think about the change, which was clearly rushed, Costello said: “We are only seven people, and I think it’s imperative that we hear from the people in this room and any avenue possible to hear from people that can’t even make it.”
Costello added: “We just have to understand that the board’s business, the district’s business, while very important is only legitimized to the extent that we can offer the voters a voice in that process.”
Ward, who was out of town on business but attended via phone, asked: “There seems to be a bit of a rush here, why?”
Although a simple question, Smith said she didn’t understand the question and appeared to play word games saying “it’s not a policy, it’s just a change in the guideline” because Ward referred to it as a policy.
Although having been on the board since 2001, Smith said she just recently learned that, as president, she has the power to restrict public comments. Holt asked why now, and after plenty of stammering from Smith she said “because we’ve had a lot of public comments” and “I don’t know.”
Holt noted that there have been long meetings previously. Back in February, Ellis rallied her supporters to come to a meeting to attack Ward because of her beliefs leading to lengthy public comments, and at the time Smith said nothing and in fact reprimanded Ward for expressing her opinion.
“Maybe that was a part of it” Smith said but “why did I bring it out now, I don’t know.”
Holt noted it was the third straight meeting where “people in the community have come out to speak,” but Smith and Ellis interrupted to say “they still can speak.” Holt noted that there are families and members of the public who may work early in the mornings, but Smith and Ellis asked what about the people who came not to speak but watch the board work.
“My point to that would be these board meetings are recorded (and available on YouTube) so they can come back and watch it at a later date… as opposed to those who may or may not be able to address the board on a day that they have come out to a board meeting,” Holt said.
Board member Sue Kerr said “sometimes you can’t see as much at home on the YouTube video” and Veronica Noland said: “Yes, you can say because it was against the majority of the board that’s why we took this decision, but I disagree with that.”
Kerr said that presenters shouldn’t have to sit through public comments such as a charter proposal coming up. What should be noted is presentations such as that have always come before public comments.
Ward, who opposed this action last week, said its clear why now.
“I vehemently disagree with this proposed course of action and will actively oppose it,” Ward said. “I think it flies in the face of transparency and good government. The public has every reason to be upset and we need to listen to them. We say that we want community engagement, but when the community engages, we are now sending the message that we don’t want to hear it.”
Ward added: “If we had been more transparent and valued an open dialogue to come to a mutually agreed upon practice, we wouldn’t have such a large showing of opposition. As a board, we’ve made our bed by ignoring the concerns of members of the public who fund this district, and now we need to lie in it by listening to them no matter how long it takes.”
Costello did attempt to amend the change, which was interrupted by failed board candidate Larry Bury who announced his exit to the entire room saying “goodnight everybody,” by saying there should be no reduction in time from three to two minutes. That appeared to have wide support on the board the previous meeting, but Smith and Kerr didn’t listen.
Regarding the transgender issue, Ellis and Noland made it clear they don’t respect those with traditional values as has U-46 CEO Tony Sanders.
Noland said board members shouldn’t use their religious morals then said “I use my morals that I’ve learned,” and while claiming “I don’t judge” and “I will not condone name calling” she levied many harsh judgments and hurled names saying those opposed have a “flawed ideology,” and at the Sept. 12 meeting said they were from hate groups and that Ward only made the change public for “political ambitions.”
Some comments from Ellis included “that word Christian has some ugly connotations behind it as has been demonstrated here for the past few weeks,” “it’s easy to discount because your facts are wrong” and “you did not elect me to do what you say.”
Ellis also likened the public to racists who would support Jim Crow laws.
Some of the black speakers opposed to the change were four U-46 students including one who said “the teachers don’t really care, they just care about their career” as she saw students that same day drinking alcohol at school and that students flaunt their sexuality without any interference from teachers. Noland called that “inflammatory” and sensationalizing by the students. Tony Sanders said he’d look into the student’s claims.
Sanders has said those with concerns are “fear mongering” and in his most recent weekly message wrote: “I plead with those in our community, and those who do not live here but have an interest in U-46, to monitor their words and mannerisms as they speak or post about this issue, or reference our incredible students.”
In contrast to the students who spoke against the change, several have come to call the adults with traditional values disgusting, hateful and bigoted and that they’re “factually wrong” without supporting that with facts. One said on Sept. 26 she “respects everyone’s opinions on the opposing side because I am educated more than they are on this topic.”
While claiming the Bible has no place in U-46, one student and her father wanted to “fight fire with fire” by quoting the Bible. The father even condoned bestiality, which drew applause from district supporters, when he said: “Let people be who they want to be. If they want to marry a bird, let them marry a bird. I don’t care.”