LAS Board of Education Recap: Statement About Book Review, New Math and Social Studies Curriculum Adopted

This past Monday evening was once again a packed house and standing room only for the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education meeting. The meeting was held in a conference room at the Runciman Administration Building, and Jessica Curtis was the only board member not present.

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Alto Elementary Math Pilot Program

The evening started out with a presentation by Alto Elementary Principal Paul Papes, who was there to speak about the new math programs that were piloted for the 2022-2023 school year.

A K-5 math curriculum team with representatives from each elementary school in the district has met during the last two years to discuss best practices for math instruction for Lowell schools. Papes spoke about a growing dissatisfaction with the current math program that has been used for the last 20 years, Everyday Math. When surveyed, an overwhelming majority of teachers were in favor of exploring new math programs.

Several choices were reviewed, and two programs stood out as being the best possible options; Reveal Math and Bridges Math. One teacher at each grade level volunteered to pilot the programs in their classroom for the whole school year to see if it would be a good fit. Ultimately, the teachers and math curriculum team voted that Reveal Math should be the new math curriculum for elementary students, and the hope is to start to implement it next year.

Action Items

The recommendation before the board was that they approve adopting Reveal Math as the new math program for the district. The cost would total roughly $192,000 for a six-year contract. The board unanimously approved the purchase of Reveal Math.

The next action item was a recommendation to also adopt a new social studies program that had been piloted at the same time as Reveal Math. This program is for fourth and fifth grades only. The teachers who tried out Social Studies Alive highly recommended it over the current social studies curriculum. The board voted unanimously to purchase Social Studies Alive at approximately $63,000 for a six-year contract.

The last action item was for the board to accept a recommendation of a book review committee. The committee had been formed to read and review a book that a LAS parent requested to have removed from the high school library because it contains a description of sexual activity. The book review committee’s recommendation was that the book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” be allowed to remain at the high school as it was, restricted to seniors only. The book can be checked out by seniors but is not required reading for any class. Parents can also request that their child not be allowed to check out the book.

During discussion of the recommendation of the committee, Board Secretary Pat Nugent expressed that he was pleased by the engaged conversation the board had regarding the book at the last meeting. He said that all board members had read the book and took the matter of its review by the committee very seriously.

Board President Brian Krajewski then read a statement drafted by the board regarding the book challenge and subsequent review and recommendation of the committee. He thanked everyone involved in the process of the book review for their time and diligence in reading and reviewing the text and then added:

“The board supports our library program. Library books are optional reading, not required. Our collection is meant to serve a diverse student population that has many different circumstances…we want our students to see themselves in our books as well as give them glimpses into the lives of others. Systems are in place to provide parents control over what their children check out from the library…we support the efforts of Mrs. Beachler, (LAS Media Specialist) our teachers and school principal.”

The board voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the book review committee to keep the book as it was.

Public Comments

Several community members stood to speak out against efforts to remove books from LAS libraries while others rose to share different concerns. David Kapolka, longtime resident of Lowell and retired Forest Hills Public Schools teacher, commented that, “Banning books because they include stories of people we disagree with, ideas we disagree with, lifestyles we disagree with is not a path an accepting society should follow. It is one thing to choose our own pathway in life; it is unacceptable to mandate or restrict the lifestyle of others.”

Lowell educator Claire Vandenburg expressed that she supported Media Specialist Christine Beachler and the way she’s handled the recent book challenges. She added that, “If you tried to put together a collection of books that will offend no one, two things will happen: 1) You will fail. There are always people who will find something to complain about. And 2) You’ll have a very narrow, limited, boring collection of books that will not encourage your students to read.”

Retired LAS teacher of 40 years Kim Lum spoke about how many years ago, a LAS parent was very upset that the school at that time did not offer an orchestra program for students. She channeled her anger into getting involved and brought about the Lowell orchestra that we all enjoy today. She urged parents that might not like various things about the district to get involved and make a positive difference in their child’s school and community.

Cascade township resident Doug Lee spoke out for different reasons. He commented that, ”At last month’s Board of Education meeting, I gave the superintendent a D- and talked about why Lowell schools had 14 pot shops. I simply pointed out how a lot of marijuana-based companies would make an investment in this community because of your demographics. I ask each of you to visit the places and see your own handiwork.”

Parent Carey VanderBoon questioned the board’s decision to keep “All Boys Aren’t Blue” at the high school. She said, “School libraries…should be geared towards academic focus, books that help your students with research and basic learning. I’m curious to know, what academic value does this book have inside?”

Resident Dusty Hawk’s public comments delved into some U.S. history, mentioning the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. military, bank cartels and several former U.S. presidents. He ended with, “What does this mean for all of you? The Federal Reserve is dying. The Department of Education will be gone. IRS, income tax, other useless bureaucracies are all going to implode. For all of you elected board members that have been here for years, Space Force was enacted just for you. Trump the puppet set it up for the military. When he said he caught you all, the military caught you all. For the new ones this year, you have a choice: speak out now against CRT, DEI, SEL and the books, or go down with him.”

Parent Stefanie Boone presented the board with handouts which she said contained statements from unnamed LAS students expressing their concerns. One of the statements Boone read said, “On numerous occasions, I have witnessed teachers using inappropriate language, yelling at students and belittling them in front of the class.” In her comments, Boone also said that a mother of an LHS student “happened to overhear” Principal Steve Gough “…telling a group of students in a very mean tone that they were lying and that they were stupid.”

Superintendent’s Report

Superintendent Nate Fowler began his comments with a statement regarding Principal Gough. He said that in the fifteen years Fowler has worked with him, he has found Gough to be a person of integrity and that he’d always known him as being, “…very knowledgeable and very caring about providing opportunities to kids.” Fowler said that, “…the first complaint I’ve had about Mr. Gough’s behavior directed towards students was in a public board meeting tonight.” He said he needed more context to the anonymous statements Boone had presented and asked that if there were issues, the parent or student involved address that issue with him or with the board directly.

Fowler expressed gratitude to the grounds, maintenance and custodial staff for putting in some early mornings and late workdays dealing with snow and ice these past few weeks. He also thanked the bus drivers for their hard work, especially when dealing with the messy roads that March weather brings.

Fowler said he considered LAS winter sports “a huge success.” He mentioned how proud he was of the high school wrestling team and their recent state title win. He also noted the gymnastics team competed at the state finals in metro Detroit. He added that LAS had a bowler and a few skiers that qualified for the state finals, the basketball teams advanced in the state tournament, and the cheer team had a strong showing this past season. He congratulated the cast and crew of the high school’s recent musical, Matilda, and said he was present in the audience for their amazingly successful production.

Board Communications

Laurie Kuna wished everyone a happy March is Reading Month. She said that books were important because representation was important, and that representation allows students to see through a different lens. Addressing the book challenge, she said, “If you want to keep bringing up books, go ahead, but we stand by our policy and by our librarian.”

Nugent remarked, “It’s disappointing to sit here in a public meeting and have a person get up and publicly defame one of our school administrators based on something that that person has no direct knowledge of. Secondhand evidence with little specific details.” He urged parents or students with any issues to contact the board, their teachers or administrators, saying, “We want and we need to have those authentic conversations because we want to be better, we want to do better. We want to talk with the parents, we want to talk with the students who are involved. We don’t need a self-appointed spokesperson; we need authentic conversations with the people who are involved.”

Regarding the decision about the book challenge, Jen Dougherty expressed that, “Whether you agree with this decision or not, the school district and board have taken this seriously. They tried to look at all sides of the issue and work to make an informed decision that is in the best interest of all of our students…everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, and it only makes sense that not everybody is going to agree on the suitability or necessity of certain books. What is important is that we give families the tools to prepare their children to be adults after high school.” She added that, “What is just as important is that we realize that we might disagree on what’s best, but we’re all trying to do what’s best for our own children.”

Krajewski said that he was excited about the new math program. He thanked Lum for her comments and said that he personally benefited from the parent in her story about the LAS orchestra, as his daughter “…was able to participate in what I consider to be the best orchestras in Michigan, hands down.”

Other Board Items

  • An excess in the district’s food budget is planned to be spent on generators, 16 ovens to be replaced across the district, and for reduced cost lunches to be free for anyone who qualifies.
  • The Career Fair at the high school will be Thursday, March 16.
  • 15 support staff and 6 staff members from the Wittenbach Wege Center were recently trained in CPR.
  • An upcoming professional development day for bus drivers will focus on driver safety and threat assessment.

The board went into closed session at 8:23 pm to discuss labor negotiations. The next Board of Education meeting will be Monday, March 27 at 6 pm.

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