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December 07th, 2021

school board forumChallenger Sarah Thompson, far left, answers a question from moderator Brad Carr Tuesday evening at a forum for the USD 480 Board of Education as other candidates wait their turn. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


Three incumbents and three challengers took to the microphone Tuesday evening to air their concerns on a variety of topics as part of a candidate forum for the USD 480 Board of Education.

After opening statements were given by each candidate, audience members submitted a series of questions to emcee Brad Carr for responses.

One question concerned the recent labeling of parents who spoke at a school board meeting in Virginia as “domestic terrorists.”

“If parents come to a school board meeting to discuss policies, do you think they should be allowed to speak, and if so, would you respond to their concerns?” Carr said as he read the question to the candidates.

Challenger Amy Whittaker said parents should be welcome to speak, but a level of caution should be also be taken with such comments.

“There’s an opportunity at the beginning where people from the community can come in and express concerns they may have,” she said referring to USD 480 board meetings she has attended. “I think it’s important to listen to those concerns. I think they need to be responded to. However, that probably needs to happen on an individual level where the board can get together in executive session where it’s not something where they’re going back and forth.”

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Incumbent Nick Hatcher said parents definitely have a right to attend and speak at meetings.

“There is a process,” he said. “There is a yellow card, and they can speak before the board.”

Hatcher said, though, if he is approached by a parent with an issue, he would refer them to the chain of command.

“I would have them take it up with their student’s teacher first,” he said. “If they had a chance and weren’t satisfied with that conversation and they had a chance to speak with the principal of that school and that conversation wasn’t satisfactory, at that point in time, I would ask they talk with our superintendent of schools. There’s a certain chain of command we need to follow, but they certainly have a right to hold a yellow card and speak at a school board meeting.”

Fellow incumbent Alan Brown likewise said parents have a right to speak, and he appreciates when the take the chance to do so.

“I think it’s great when parents come and speak,” he said. “We’ve had some really positive times when they’ve brought issues we didn’t know we  even had an issue with, and it’s been really eye opening at times. It’s always welcome. We are the sounding board of the community, and some people don’t know us personally. They don’t call us, or they don’t come by and see us. It gives a place where they know who we are and they can see us.”

However, Brown said difficulties lie in knowing where issues fit into district policies.

“What we have to do is follow policy, and we send everybody back to the right areas whether it’s something to do with one of the individual schools or the superintendent or an individual teacher,” he said. “We try to make sure they do get an answer at the appropriate place.”

Challenger Dr. William Purdy too said the process of handling parental complaints needs to be followed, and it is difficult for school board members to respond immediately to concerns.

“The board’s not able to make unilateral decisions,” he said. “There is a process by which they have to vote on things that are placed before them. They have to be nominated and seconded, and that’s not something that can happen right when the parent shows up. That can lead to a lot of frustration and ill feeling, but that’s not meant to hurt. It’s useful if parents can have an opportunity to stay over and have that discussion with a board member.”

Challenger Sarah Thompson also said a chain of command needs to be followed.

“It may not be the appropriate time to get a response at a board meeting,” she said. “You may not have all of the information needed. I think it should be welcomed, but I think parents need to understand there is a chain of command and they may not get an answer immediately.”

Going through the right channels was likewise incumbent Stewart Cauble’s approach to handling parental concerns.

“There’s a process,” he said. “There’s procedure. The district decided to hire a public relations individual to help us try to communicate better as a board. That’s one of the things the district has been doing to get communication out there. If there’s an issue regarding a specific student or a complaint, you go to the lowest person, i.e. the teacher, then to the principal, then the superintendent.”

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