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Split vote ratifies pacts in U-46, incurs reaction

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved the controversial board agreements brought before the board on Feb. 26 by a 5-2 vote, Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voting no, on Monday, March 5.
  The agreements came back in the original form, including the undefined term of “volatile” with regards to board member social media posts, with one addition.
  Added to the document was a paragraph to the top of the agreements which included language that states: “The Agreements are not to be construed as binding or limiting any Board member’s First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern.”
  One of the controversial points discussed at the previous meeting was an agreement that board members should not make “volatile” social media posts. Some board members, including Costello and Ward as well as Sue Kerr, questioned the reasoning for that word as well as how it would be defined while board members Melissa Owens and Veronica Noland suggested changing it to “harmful,” which was not defined.
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, amended the additional language prior to the vote to strike the phrase “on matters of public concern” from the document.
  Board member Traci Ellis objected saying: “I don’t want to be picky about it but I don’t believe that we should have the right to speak on matters of closed session.”
  Smith said closed session meetings are “different than making comments and questioning at a board meeting. You’re right, closed session should not be discussed at all.”
  Ward noted before the vote her objections to the document, which she expressed at the February meeting, remained and she asked rhetorically: “If it doesn’t restrict speech, then why are we having an agreement?”
  The agreements were viewed as targeted specifically at Ward by Ward herself and a supporter, Audrey Ossewaarde, who spoke during public comments at the previous meeting.
  Both Ellis and Noland accused Ward of being “volatile” as well as attacking U-46 CEO Tony Sanders publicly. Ward asked for examples, but neither could provide any.
  Rick Newton spoke during public comments at the March 5 meeting and called out the board’s majority for “hypocrisy.”
  “As a citizen and a taxpayer in this struggling school district, observing the behavior of this school board’s majority on Feb. 26 was not only embarrassing and pathetic but more than anything it exemplified the epitome of hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty,” Newton said.
  Newton said the board’s majority has its “own history of temper tantrums, phony indignation and intolerance of opinions and beliefs with which you do not agree.”
  “You went on to accuse Mrs. Ward of personally attacking the district’s CEO in public when in fact she has always made the point of focusing on the issues and policies at hand rather than making personal attacks,” Newton said. “True to your normal behaviors, however, several of you consciously ignored any comments she has made on policies and have sought to undermine her concerns by conducting your own personal attacks towards her. Could there possibly be any obvious irony here?”
  Ward has had her intelligence questioned by colleagues on the board and called a liar and bigoted, among other personal attacks, during public meetings without Smith or any members of the board’s majority interjecting. During previous closed session self-evaluation meetings, Ward has said “community members and I were spoken of in derogatory terms, such as, ‘…the 21st century brand of the KKK.’”
  At the Feb. 26 meeting, members of the majority said expressing certain views can cause harm to the world but Newton said: “That sword cuts both ways. So while you proceed to falsely cast Mrs. Ward’s policy statements as being personal attacks, have you ever stopped to consider the degree of harm that this board’s majority members have imposed as a detriment to our students through your social engineering tactics and ideologically biased curriculum?”
  Newton added: “Nothing could better depict the word hypocrisy then when you claim to be all about diversity yet you have no tolerance amongst yourselves for diversity of ideas, thoughts and values which aren’t steeped in entitlement mentality or victimhood. Is it any wonder that our modern day public school systems have spawned the nation’s collegiate snowflakes who seek to restrict or ban thoughts which differ from the high school’s indoctrinations and believe that such thoughts should only be spoken in free speech zones on our college campuses?”
  Regarding “free speech zone,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says on its website, thefire.org, that such areas are still heavily used on college campuses despite having been ruled unconstitutional.
  According to FIRE: “The sad truth is that free speech zones are far from free. Many college campuses restrict free speech solely to these areas, meaning that the rest of campus is not open for expression.”
  In 2004 Texas Tech University’s use of “free speech zones” were called unconstitutional, and in 2012 a federal judge said concerning a case against the University of Cincinnati that they violate “the First Amendment and cannot stand.” Still, according to FIRE, one out of every six of the nation’s top 400 colleges continue using “free speech zone” and require American citizens to seek permission to exercise their civil right.
  Newton concluded his comments: “While it is a sad reflection upon our society, it speaks volumes about the debilitating impact academia currently has upon impressionable students. I don’t know if I will ever live to see the district adhere to a strict belief that teaching students how to discover and learn is much more useful and powerful than teaching them what to think. If it fails to change for the better, however, those of you who have facilitated its demise will certainly deserve the ire of those children you have cheated and the taxpayers of whom you have robbed blindly.”




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