School Board Recap: Potential Recall in the Works

The Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools met at Cherry Creek Elementary School on Monday night for its regular October meeting. Tom Kaywood was absent for the meeting, which ran a little more than an hour. Pat Nugent was absent at the start of the meeting but arrived about 30 minutes into the session.

A large crowd was in attendance, with many wearing red to show solidarity with school board members who have faced harsh criticism in recent months. Recall petition language has apparently been drafted to remove three members from office: Gary Blough, Pat Nugent and Jessica Curtis. The other members of the board are not currently eligible for a recall.

Student Report Highlights High School Activities

The first item of the night was to hear from the board’s student council representative, Emily Struckmeyer. She shared details about high school activities including Spirit Week and Homecoming.

There was lots of participation in the events, and assemblies were moved outside to the stadium. For the homecoming dance, a big tent was erected so it could be held outside as well. “It was a little chilly, but it was nice,” Struckmeyer said.

Coming up is World Polio Day on October 24, and there will be efforts to educate students about the disease’s global impact. Ending polio is a major initiative of Rotary International, and the Rotary-sponsored Interact Club at the high school often spearheads these activities.

Update from Cherry Creek Principal

Each month, the Board of Education receives an update from a principal or staff member within the district. This month, Principal Craig Veldman spoke about happenings at Cherry Creek Elementary School.

Veldman noted the school has found some changes implemented because of the pandemic ended up providing superior results compared to earlier procedures. For instance, the school discovered staggered arrival times were preferable to trying to pull kids off the playground and into the classroom each day. “Our students come in and they are ready to learn,” Veldman said.

Overall, Veldman emphasized that many good things are happening in the school this year. “That’s the one thing I want to make clear to our board and to everyone here,” he said. “Our students are learning; they’re growing; and they are having fun.”

Two Purchases Approved

The agenda for the evening included two action items. Both were passed unanimously.

  • Approximately $230,000 is to be spent to create a secure vestibule at Murray Lake Elementary School.
  • More than $30,000 has been allocated for the purchase of media center furniture for Lowell Middle School.

For each item, Superintendent Nate Fowler explained the project details, and there were minimal comments and questions from board members.

Curriculum and Other Updates

Other updates during the meeting included the following:

  • There was a first reading of a change to section 0167.3 of the board bylaws. The proposed change would clarify that members of the public can yield or donate their public comment time to another speaker. Currently, the bylaws don’t reflect this practice.
  • In the budget update, it was noted that the regular audit of the district had been completed with no significant findings reported.
  • The sex education advisory board has conducted two meetings so far, and four 5th grade teachers were asked to take a look at material options and provide feedback. Recommendations from the board should be coming to the Board of Education in the winter or early spring.
  • A curriculum council has been formed to review new education materials for the district.
  • A committee is being considered to look at math best practices and how to strengthen math scores in the district.
  • While there was a “bit of a drop” in testing scores at the middle school and high school levels last year, it wasn’t significant. Meanwhile, there was not a fall-off in scores at the elementary level.

Public Comments on Various Issues

During the public comment portion of the meeting, nine people spoke. They offered the following comments:

  • Three people thanked the board and express support for their work.
  • One person was present on behalf of the Unlock Michigan 2 petition drive which seeks to eliminate the ability of state and county health officials to issue unlimited health mandates.
  • One person felt the administration was using bully tactics and some school board members were posting inappropriate comments on social media.
  • Two people spoke in opposition to mandating masks for students.
  • One person expressed frustration that he had been unable to meet with school board members about his concern.
  • Once person did not want policies that would create divisions among students based on factors such as race, religion or medical status.

Several of the speakers on Monday night had addressed the board at previous meetings. “It gets a little tiring to say the same thing over and over again only to be ignored,” said Stefanie Boone, a parent who previously expressed opposition to forced vaccination and the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. Boone, who also has students enrolled in the Forest Hills Public School District, has organized recall petitions for both Lowell and Forest Hills school board members.

Other speakers did not agree with the criticism leveled against the district. “There are many of us out here who believe in you,” Nancy Misner said to board members in her comments.

Superintendent’s Report

During his superintendent’s report, Fowler clarified that he had not participated in a meeting with the Kent County Health Department prior to the issuance of a mask mandate. He added that a letter was sent to the Health Department by superintendents which said a mandate may be warranted if public health officials deemed it was in the best interest of kids. “It was not an ask for that,” Fowler said.

October is National Principals Month, and Fowler thanked the district principals for their work. He also noted that the district recently held parent-teacher conferences and while in-person conferences were an option, it appeared much easier for some parents to meet virtually.

Board Comments

At the conclusion of the meeting, several board members thanked the public for being in attendance and noted that they were mindful of their opinions.

Nugent said there were limitations on how and when the board could respond to individual concerns; for instance, it can’t meet in a way that would violate the Open Meetings Act. He also noted that he understood petition language had been filed to recall him, but he stands by everything he has done on the board.

“We’ve done a lot of things the last year and a half that we never imagined we’d have to do,” Nugent said. He believes that while it’s easy to look back in hindsight and see how some things could have been done differently, at the time, everyone in the school district was doing the best they could under unprecedented circumstances.

“There’s been a lot of second-guessing and a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking done in the community and done on this board,” Nugent said, “but I have no doubt that everything has been done with the best of intentions.”

Apparently, the recall petition language must still be approved by the Kent County Clerk’s office, and a hearing on that is scheduled for later in October.

The next regular meeting of the Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools is Monday, November 8, at 7pm.

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