The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met this past Monday, May 8, for their regular monthly meeting. All board members were present. They gathered before a mostly packed room of LAS staff, parents, and community members in the administration building.
Student Council Report
The meeting started with an update from a student council representative who shared that it’s a busy time for LAS high school students: testing is ongoing, and the juniors and seniors celebrated last weekend with prom. All LHS students took part in a mental health assembly last week, the last blood drive for LHS will be this Wednesday, and Friday will be senior decision day. Coming up soon will be senior give-back and honors night.
Recognition of Retirees
Several LAS staff members who will be retiring this year were present in the audience, and they stood for recognition and applause for their service to LAS.
Superintendent Nate Fowler said of the retirees, “We’ve got a distinguished group of people who have given many years of service. They’ve touched hundreds and thousands of students’ lives, including my own kids and my own family, and so I just want to take this time to say thank you.”
In attendance and asked to stand for recognition were Cherry Creek Special Education teacher Cindy Donahue, LHS Athletic Director Dee Crowley, high school Spanish teacher Tammi Dent, and LAS bus driver Cathy Wisner. Retiring LAS Director of Operations Steve Turnbull was also recognized but was not present at the meeting.
Student Council President Emma Sage was also recognized at Monday’s meeting with a plaque for her monthly reports detailing the busy lives of Lowell high school students and the various activities happening at LHS.
District Nurses/Murray Lake Presentation
Next up was Murray Lake Elementary Principal Molly Burnett, who was there to introduce the school district’s nurses and speak to the impact they’ve had on LAS students and staff.
Burnett said teachers and principals don’t typically receive any medical training or learn about how to care for kids with medical needs as part of their regular educator training. So, if a student comes into the office with something more major than a bloody nose or a scraped knee, Burnett and the office staff rely on the expertise of the two district nurses: Linda McElroy, who works part-time, and Delynn Wright, the full time nurse who was hired just this year. Burnett said that she appreciated all of the training that the nurses have made available to LAS staff, such as emergency response, epi-pen administration, AED training and CPR/basic first aid. She said that because of the training she’s now received, she feels more confident in her care for students with various medical needs.
Murray Lake fifth grader Lucas Wittenbach and his mom, Jenny, were at the meeting to speak to the ways in which the district hiring a full-time nurse has positively impacted their family. Lucas is a pediatric stroke survivor and congenital heart warrior who suffers from epileptic seizures that cannot be controlled with medication. Jenny said that prior to LAS hiring a nurse who could be there full time, she would answer many phone calls each week from the school and sometimes have to leave work when there were questions about Lucas’ care.
Wittenbach said that, now, she can rely on Wright’s expertise to let her know if something happening with Lucas is truly a medical concern or not. Speaking about the experience of having a full-time nurse, Wittenbach added that, “Not only has it impacted my husband and I — we’re able to stay at work (and) I’m not leaving constantly and claiming FMLA — but it’s also made it so Lucas is able to stay in school and stay in front of his education and he’s learning in the classroom and he’s with his peers.”
Nurses Wright and McElroy gave the board a presentation detailing some of the various student chronic health conditions in the district and the type of care some of these conditions necessitate. They also spoke about the many trainings they have been able to offer to LAS staff, including the formation of MERT teams (medical emergency response teams) and the assembly of MERT bags for each building, which include medical items such as a blood pressure cuff, epi pens, a pulse oximeter, heart rate monitor, etc. The nurses have also been able to lead the MERT teams in drills to simulate what would need to be done in an actual medical emergency.
Wright said Lowell High School and Murray Lake Elementary have both been designated as “Michigan Heart-Safe Schools” by the state of Michigan, which is a recognition of their efforts to be prepared for a cardiac emergency. Wright went on to describe some of the medical goals for the district, including a Michigan Heart-Safe School designation for all school buildings, the addition of more AEDs, CPR training for all staff including bus drivers and educational health programs for students.
Book Review Committee
One of the items before the board was whether to accept the recommendation of a book review committee that was formed in response to a formal challenge to a title in the LHS library. The committee was recommending that the book The Sun and Her Flowers be allowed to remain as it was, in the LHS library and restricted to seniors only. Students in lower grades can only access the book with parental permission.
This book was challenged on the grounds that it contains sexual content, and the board initially reviewed the committee’s recommendation at their April work session.
During discussion, Board Secretary Pat Nugent said he appreciated the work that the committee put into making their decision. He said that this was a different committee than the one formed for the last formal book challenge, and in reviewing their recommendation, he agreed and urged the board to also vote to accept their recommendation.
Board member Jared Blough said he felt that the question of whether this book should remain at the high school was different from the last book challenged in that he found drawings that accompanied the poems to be “…definitely descriptive, and that is pornographic.”
Board Vice President Laurie Kuna said that she found the book to have literary value.
Board member Jen Dougherty said that though there were drawings in the book, she didn’t, “…know how ‘explicit’ they are.” She said that she appreciated that the book included poems she felt would “speak to marginalized groups” and agreed with Kuna that the book of poems had literary value.
Ultimately, the motion to accept the committee’s recommendation passed, with six board members voting yes and Blough casting the one opposing vote.
Audits are happening this week, and CFO Sonia Hodge said she would have some budget projections and rough figures for the 2023-2024 school year for the board to review at the May workshop meeting. Then, a more complete budget would be available to review at next month’s regular meeting.
Director of Curriculum Dan VanderMeulen said that teacher training for implementation of the new K-12 math program, Reveal Math, would take place on June 6 and 7. He added that the plan was for the middle school to pilot Reveal Math next year.
VanderMeulen also recognized Carmen Tawney, Math Coordinator, for her work in organizing various activities for Math Awareness Month in April.
Parent Stefanie Boone passed out illustrations to the board that she said could be found in the book The Sun and Her Flowers and said she found them to be “sexually explicit.” Addressing the board, she added, “…I’m not sure how you can sleep at night being proud of yourself, allowing that to be in front of minors, especially the fact that it’s illegal.” Boone also mentioned that the author Rupi Kaur was currently “under fire for plagiarism.”
Retired teacher Kim Lum said she remembered times when LAS didn’t have a nurse on staff, and she was thankful that the district was able to use funding to hire a full-time nurse. Lum reminded everyone that it is currently Teacher Appreciation Week and said that she greatly appreciates LAS teachers. She urged the board and audience to send the teachers in their lives a note of appreciation.
In her comments, LAS Math Coordinator and lifelong Lowell resident Carmen Tawny said that, “It saddens me to attend the Lowell school board meetings and listen to people from outside our community dismiss our school and our town. I’m confused by the number of people making public comments at our school board meetings starting with the words, ‘I am not from Lowell, nor do I have children in the district’. They have no apparent affiliation with our town and yet they seem to know so much about what’s wrong with us.” Tawney added that she felt that, “Our schools and town are not failing, but in my point of view they are thriving, and a great place to raise a family.” Tawney went on to list a host of local businesses started and staffed by Lowell grads as well as community programs in Lowell to be proud of, such as FROM, Gilda’s Club, Pink Arrow, The Arts Council, Boy Scouts, 4H/FFA, etc.
LAS parent April Harrington said she loves Lowell schools and the Lowell community but had questions about the threat assessment policies of LAS. She said that she had trouble finding the policy online, and “…I just want to be able to, when there’s a threat that happens, be able to confidently tell (my children) that they’re safe and we know we can send them to school.”
LHS senior Gabi Yeary said she worried that the people at board meetings making public comments about books were reading certain passages without proper context. She added that, “In my literature class, I learned that context is vital for understanding a topic. In literature, every word is connected. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter is all connected to one another to create a bigger image. These passages we hear every month are provided without relation to the bigger image.” Yeary ended by saying that, “…take it from a student when I say that the library isn’t something to restrict and limit, but instead something to expand. It’s a place of comfort, of knowledge and of progress for many.”
Other Agenda Items
- The board approved the annual Kent ISD budget.
- A resolution was approved for the school and its food service management company, Chartwells, to renew their contract and allow for a budget increase from 2 to 4% due to inflation.
- A motion was passed unanimously to approve the emergency operations plan for LAS. Fowler said that the plan included some additions: the threat assessment process and radio communications system and plan.
- The board approved the bus driver contract. Fowler thanked everyone involved in the negotiations for the contract and said that the contract allows for a pay raise for Lowell bus drivers.
Addressing the public comment regarding the threat assessment policy, Fowler said communication in emergencies or threats would continue to be talked about and worked through, both with local law enforcement and administrators.
Fowler thanked both former and current teachers for their hard work and dedication to LAS and thanked the parents who showed their appreciation for teachers this week with special treats and thank you notes. He added that he wanted to “…wish best of luck to our seniors, all of our students and our staff as we wrap up this school year, look forward to graduation and look forward to those final days of school.”
Several board members thanked the retirees and current teachers for their service to Lowell Area Schools and to the community. Jessica Curtis said she appreciated the nursing staff for the presentation and for their presence at LAS. Board President Brian Krajewski thanked the bus drivers and other LAS staff involved for their time and effort in bringing together a contract.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:19 pm. The next LAS Board of Education meeting will be a work session held on Monday, May 22 at 6 pm in the administrative building.