Board reverses decision about book committee
Without the packed house of concerned patrons and the glare of the media that surrounded last Monday's Baldwin School Board meeting, the recessed version Saturday brought a reversal of the board's previous action regarding the controversial book that had been used at Baldwin High School.
At last Monday's meeting, board members voted 5-2 to turn the question of whether the book "We All Fall Down" should be used in the BHS freshman orientation class over to a review committee. Board members Stacy Cohen and Lonnie Broers voted against the motion.
After concerns were raised Wednesday regarding the committee, it was decided to revisit the issue at Saturday's recessed meeting, which had been scheduled to discuss and decide on a new phone system for the district. Notification of Saturday's additional agenda item was not made to anyone but board members by school district officials.
It was learned Wednesday that the review committee was to include two members of the Parent Curriculum Advisory Council (PCAC). However, that group had been dissolved several years ago. It was also discovered that the "Instructions of Reconsideration Committee" had never been adopted and therefore wasn't a part of current school district policy.
Because of those two items and wide-spread concerns about the make-up of the committee, administrators wanted the board to give an opinion regarding the issue before the committee that had been formed started its work. After a lively discussion, the board voted 5-1 to get a policy in place before turning the matter over to a "realigned" committee. Cohen voted against the motion and board member Chip Hornberger wasn't at the meeting.
"I think this discussion should be done in a regular meeting," said Cohen. "I feel like we're meeting in secret and we're changing our mind."
Board member Scott Lauridsen had lobbied for doing away with the committee altogether, the board making the decision on Robert Cormier's challenged book and then putting the policy in place to be used for any possible future challenges. Lauridsen was concerned that any committee would be hard pressed to come up with an answer on the controversial issue and that the board ultimately has the final say.
"I don't like the position we're putting these people in," Lauridsen said of the committee. "Whether the TV cameras are here or not, we're here."
Lauridsen didn't want the committee to be reviewing "We All Fall Down" while the board was also in the process of putting a policy into place.
"It's at the board level already," he said of the issue. "I'm concerned we're doing this parallel."
Cohen argued that the review was essential and the board shouldn't make the decision prior to the committee's findings.
"I think the community would be outraged," she said.
The board also discussed the urgency of the issue and the need for a policy. It was decided that a policy item similar to one used by the Kansas Association of School Board's should be adopted. Board president Ed Schulte said the KASB policy provided a good "road map."
"Let's not make it up as we go," said Schulte.
Curriculum director Connie Wehmeyer was directed to draft a policy following the KASB "map" to present to board members Monday so they could review it and vote on its adoption at the Oct. 13 meeting.
Concerns were also raised about who was on the committee that had previously been directed to review the book, which is being challenged because of subject matter, including sexual references. According to the policy that was in place, BHS principal Allen Poplin was to form the committee and also serve on it. The original complaint about the book was brought to Poplin's attention last spring. There are other possible conflicts of interest with other committee members, as well, such as Wehmeyer who has already stated the book should not be in the curriculum.
"We have a principal on the committee who has already given an opinion on it when the complaint was made," said Board Member Blaine Cone.
However, Poplin didn't document the complaint because, as Wehmeyer informed the board Saturday, he wasn't aware that was a part of the policy on challenges.
"I agree, that's where we dropped the ball was on documentation," said Supt. James White.
That has already been corrected and any time a book or other instructional materials are challenged, a written form will be used to track the complaint's path through the new process.
Cohen was comfortable with that and she also had no problems with the committee that had already been formed. She thought the review should go on as directed at the Sept. 22 meeting.
"I would like to trust the people Mr. Poplin has chosen," she said. "I'd like to trust his judgment."
White said that Poplin would be more than happy not to be on the committee. As many issues as possible concerning the book will be addressed at the Oct. 13 school board meeting which is set for 7 p.m. at Baldwin Junior High School.
The board did accept a bid by Stutler Co. for a new phone system for the district at a cost of $66,280. That vote was 4-2 with board members Alison Bauer and Cohen voting against it. The board also met in executive session for 20 minutes to discuss a personnel matter. No vote was taken following the session.