Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education meeting highlights 1-4-2022
JANUARY 4, 2022, Organizational and Regular Meeting
- Oath of office and election of officers
- OSBA Membership
- Testimony before the state board
- Student reports
- Public comments
- COVID update
- School calendar
- Policy readings
- Treasurer’s report
Present were President James Posch, Dan Heintz, Malia Lewis, Jodi Sourini, and Beverly Wright. Also present were Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby and Treasurer Scott Gainer. Dr. Paul Lombardo, assistant superintendent, attended virtually. The meeting lasted two hours and 55 minutes.
Oath of office and election of officers
Mr. Gainer administered the oath of office to Malia Lewis, Jodi Sourini, and Dan Heintz. The board elected Ms. Lewis to be board president; Ms. Wright, vice president; and Mr. Heintz, treasurer pro-tem.
The board approved the consent agenda except for renewal of the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) membership in light of OSBA’s decision to withdraw from the National School Boards Association. The board wants to consider further the membership and the benefits they receive and will seek more information. Ms. Wright will attend the Northeast Ohio School Board meeting on January 12.
Testimony before the state board
Mr. Posch read a letter he will send to the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union. He reported receiving a letter from the union regarding his testimony on Dec. 14, 2021, before the state board of education. He stated that his intention for giving testimony was to explain the positive impact the school district’s equity policy has had on its students. He did this in opposition to the state board’s rescission of the antiracism and equity resolution that was passed in 2020. He apologized for answering questions asked by the state board for which he was not prepared and for answering in a manner that did not present CHUH teachers and students as he intended. He apologized for any hurt caused by his remarks. A letter from union president Karen Rego delineating the offense taken from Mr. Posch’s testimony was sent to the school board and is posted on the union’s Facebook page.
Eleventh grader Owen Bisker and tenth grader Jordan Evans reported on the athletic teams; on how during school threats, the students found support from the staff and each other; and emphasized the importance of the 2021-2022 Together We Rise school theme.
Metal detector concerns. After thanking the board for engaging in the lawsuit against vouchers, a resident explained her experience with metal detectors in school. She described the process as an ugly part of the school day that destroyed the students’ trust. She stated that spending Title IX money to pay an officer to monitor metal detectors would be a mistake.
COVID concerns. A junior stated that masking is inconsistent, and masks are incorrectly worn. She questioned whether contact tracing was happening and within the Board of Health guidelines. She recommended that mask infractions be treated like tardies and have students face referrals.
Tiger Virtual Academy (TVA). Two individuals expressed frustration with TVA, describing insufficient support in using the website, an unclear grading system, and a lack of emotional support for students. It is wrong to expect students to be successful when they are teaching themselves.
Concerns about public comment process. A new parent asked that the board be more inclusive, that the agenda be distributed and more accessible online, and that board meetings be held in a regular place to eliminate confusion. If the school board truly wants to hear from the community, a mechanism should exist for virtual comments and no interruptions should occur during public comments.
A resident commented on censorship during board meetings and provided a variety of suggestions to facilitate positive community involvement and the ability to speak at board meetings. She suggested a person facilitate signing in for presenting comments and allow for call-in or zoom-style participation. She emphasized that the person speaking should not be cut off and that a recess be called to de-escalate heightened emotions. She also asked why the district has ten law firms on contract.
Sexual harassment concerns. A student affirmed that a statement read by another person at a previous board meeting was actually hers. She was a victim of sexual assault. She gave an overview of the trauma that a victim of sexual assault experiences, including the added trauma when authorities do not respond or believe the victim. A victim needs to be treated with compassion and made to feel as safe and comfortable as possible. She said that the board has the power to change this path for trauma victims. Consent needs to be taught and practiced in schools. Coaches seem to have a complacent attitude, so extra attention to consent training is needed in the athletic department. If there is a court case, victim and the accused should not be on the same school grounds, and the perpetrator should not have so many educational rights when those of the victim are taken away.
Superintendent Kirby expressed thanks for the behind-the-scenes preparation to return to school. She emphasized the time and work by teachers, staff, community members, and the board during winter break that particularly related to COVID. Because many more families were applying to TVA, the deadline was extended to January 5. Recognizing concerns voiced in the public comments, she appreciated any feedback and wanted people to know that the program is still being developed. She said that data (attendance, grades, infractions) indicate that most students learning remotely suffered academically and socially/emotionally. This finding is consistent with state trends. In-person learning aligns with health guidelines. An educational plan is ready in case a class, school, or building needs to shift to virtual instruction. MetroHealth is providing a clinic that rotates between the schools.
The mask policy is in effect, teachers have received additional masks, and ventilation is in keeping with guidelines. The new CDC suggestions and guidelines are still under review. Superintendent Kirby said she was not finding resistance to wearing masks. Several board members commented about masks not being worn correctly in the hall and during class changes. The consensus was that infractions should be reported.
Two board members were concerned at the discrepancy between the COVID numbers the community hears and the tracking and reporting by the schools. Dr. Lombardo responded that COVID infections are reported as they are received. He reports the numbers to the board of health. School nurses reach out to teachers and students when a case is reported.
Dr. Lombardo presented calendar changes for approval. Community input had been collected. Of the 52 community comments, 50 were in favor of the calendar change. The board approved Jan. 31, 2022, as a professional day and June 19, 2022, as a holiday.
Dr. Lombardo explained the process for annual review of large groups of policies: the policies are read three times to allow for community feedback and NEOLA (North East Ohio Learning Associates) provides assistance in developing policies.
President Lewis also stated that policies relate to what the board does for the district, and it is necessary to look at the policies in a larger context.
Dr. Lombardo presented group B policies for the first reading. The present policy committee is composed of directors, assistant superintendents, safety and security, IT, and Ms. Wright. No teachers are on the committee this year.
Mr. Gainer reported that the financial audit was complete and will be posted on the district website. He is still hopeful for a resolution on state funding and payments from the Ohio Department of Education.
Mr. Heintz reported on Vouchers Hurt Ohio, a coalition of 100 Ohio public school districts that have come together over the private school voucher program. After two years of planning, the school districts and other organizations have filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of EdChoice vouchers. The lawsuit claims violation of Article 6 section 2 of the Ohio Constitution.
Ms. Lewis said the community has tasked the board with advocating in Columbus for the students. She asked the superintendent to schedule equity training for the school board members and to schedule workshops on how to reach out to students on the topic of sexual misconduct.
LWV Observer: Rosemarie Fairman.
Documents for all board meetings can be accessed from the Board of Education webpage: www.chuh.org/BoardofEducation.aspx. Go to “BoardDocs” in the menu; on BoardDocs go to “MEETINGS” in the top menu; click on “Agenda.” Board meetings are livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/CHUHSchools) and recorded for later viewing.