It was standing room only when the Board of Education met in the Runciman Building for its regular monthly meeting last night. Dozens filled the room while nearly 20 more people logged in to view the meeting virtually.
The agenda was relatively short, and most in attendance appeared to be there for the public comments portion of the evening. Those addressing the Board of Education during this time largely shared concerns about what policies Lowell Area Schools might enact heading into the 2021-2022 school year.
All Board of Education members were present except Pat Nugent, whose absence was excused.
Comments on Masks, Bathrooms, Mental Health and More
Eight people spoke during the public comments section of the meeting. Each speaker was allowed three minutes to speak although that time could be extended if others wished to give up their allotted time.
The first person to address the Board of Education was a father whose children are enrolled in 5th and 8th grade at Lowell Area Schools. He noted he is a registered nurse and worked in the ICU with COVID patients during the early months of the pandemic. “The quality of our kids’ education is incredibly important,” he said. “All these people you’re seeing here are a reminder that we want our kids’ education decided here and not…in Washington D.C.”
His children then both addressed the Board of Education. “Thank you for saying we don’t have to start the school year wearing masks,” the 5th grader said. “Last year was horrible.” He added that masks are hard to wear, and COVID tests were painful even long after the test was done. His 8th grade sister said she would refuse to participate in cheerleading this year if forced to take COVID tests. She also said virtual learning was “torture.”
Next, Stefanie Boone read a long statement outlining her concerns with the policy recommendations made within the MI Blueprint for Student Comprehensive Recovery. The report was issued by the State of Michigan, and Boone wondered if it was worth taking federal relief dollars if it meant adhering to the policy recommendations.
Boone said the report called for an intentional focus on hiring educators of color since that has been shown to boost the academic performance of students of color. She wondered if that might lead to segregated classrooms. She also took issue with the state’s plan for Innovation Zones which would allow participating schools to waive certain rules and requirements. The report calls for universal preschool which Boone said would allow for “state funded indoctrination” of Marxist ideologies.
Other areas of concern for Boone included the use of school nurses, which she worried would be a way to force vaccines on families, and the development of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative at Lowell Area Schools. “Who is funding their agenda?” she asked. She said some teachers were unhappy with the training they received under the initiative but were afraid of saying anything for fear of being reprimanded.
Speakers also commented on how the mental health of students had suffered during the pandemic year, and one person said she heard the bathrooms may become unisex this year. She didn’t think it would be comfortable for girls to have boys using the same restroom.
Another speaker, Courtland Skoog, said 100 parents were ready to leave Lowell Area Schools if the district did not heed parents’ wishes. “We’re telling our kids it’s ok to cover your breathing holes and [accept] tyranny,” he commented. At the conclusion of his statement, he said parents were prepared to take legal action to protect the welfare of students.
Not everyone was displeased with the district though. Lacey Charboneau has two children who attend Lowell Area Schools under the schools of choice program. With family members in her house who are elderly and have pre-existing conditions, Charboneau says her household has been focused on taking appropriate precautions and prefers the school district follow government guidance regarding public health measures.
“I think it is disingenuous to compare masks to child abuse,” Charboneau said. She also expressed her support for historically accurate lessons in school, and sex education instruction that conveyed basic facts using proper terms.
Board of Education, Superintendent Response
At the conclusion of public comments, Board of Education President Brian Krajewski thanked everyone for their comments. He noted it was helpful to hear parent feedback, and these concerns would be discussed in future work sessions and meetings.
In his comments, Superintendent Nate Fowler addressed several of the concerns raised. “[There are] no plans and never have been plans for free-for-all bathrooms,” he said. He noted the buildings have single stall bathrooms available, and “We are working on a plan to make sure all students feel safe.”
When it comes to face coverings, the district currently plans to leave it to parents to decide whether to send their students to school in masks this fall, Fowler said. He added that, as of right now, teachers would also be allowed to make their own decision on masking.
As for concerns that federal dollars could be tied to the recommendations included in the MI Blueprint for Comprehensive Student Recovery, Fowler said he wasn’t aware of any requirements as to how the money is to be used. Lowell Area Schools plans to use the money to address mental health and learning loss among students, improve the virtual learning program for those who wish to use it and upgrade building ventilation.
Fowler said critical race theory is not part of the curriculum at Lowell schools, but when it come to DEI, “We want to make sure all our students have a place to learn.”
Echoing Krajewski’s comments, Fowler said conversations about many of these matters would be ongoing.
Other Board of Education Business
In addition to routine business such as the payment of bills and hearing updates on the budget and curriculum, the Board of Education voted unanimously on the following two items:
- Purchase of three new school buses
- Appointment of Jessica Curtis as the board delegate to the Michigan Association of School Boards conference to be held in Grand Rapids in November.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools will take place at 7pm on August 9, 2021.
Editor’s Note: This article originally used the wrong gender when referring to one speaker. The article was updated at 5:35pm on July 13, 2021 to correct the mistake. We apologize for the error.