The Hiawatha School Board heard from the Diversity Council at the regular October meeting, rescheduled for Wednesday evening.
The board meeting was rescheduled from Monday due to the power outage that evening that occurred right as the meeting was set to start. On Wednesday, board member Jeff Brockhoff was absent.
HMS instructor Marissa LeMay and district patron Laura Fortmeyer are two members of the Diversity Council and led the presentation for the board and members of the public gathered Wednesday night.
The subject of the Diversity Council has garnered controversy from a few local patrons who have accused the district of using the group to push Critical Race Theory. LeMay and Fortmeyer told the board members that wasn’t the case at all. They said the Diversity Council was formed to address the differences of many things — not just race. LeMay told the board members that for Hiawatha being a very small town, many different ethnic groups were represented among the town and students in school.
She said there are also many challenges that cause diversity, such as disabilities, economic structure, lifestyle, foster care, medical issues, single parent households and many others. LeMay said the purpose of the council is to explore all avenues of life and be prepared to understand each of those and help students from all walks of life feel comfortable in our schools.
“We are all different people,” she said.
Fortmeyer added that it’s “our responsibility to be supportive” of those differences, which is the reality of how people are created.
LeMay said each month has an “awareness” slogan, such as Celiac Month, Black History Month, Scottish-American Month and so on. She has created bulletin boards to bring awareness to many of these “awareness months” to keep students aware of these.
Board member John Wright asked whether the Diversity Council dealt with bullying and LeMay said that has not been addressed within their group, noting that was an administrative responsibility.
The Diversity Council reports to Superintendent Lonnie Moser, who said that the group does not make policy — is merely an advisory group to himself. He said there are not any students who serve on the Diversity Council.
Moser went on to say that he formed the council with people who had different life experience than he has had — to get input from “someone who is not like me.” He told the board that each time the Diversity Council meets he will report on it and can record meetings if the board wants.
Wright, who at last month’s meeting made a motion to disband the Diversity Council — stating that he felt the issue within the district was bullying — asked several questions. He told the group that he didn’t feel the district had a problem with racism, but rather bullying, which is what he felt spurred the forming of the Diversity Council in the first place.
Board member Ian Schuetz said his initial concern was that the Diversity Council was able to make policy and could potentially be a way for political idealogies to infiltrate the schools. He said as long as the group was not political, then he would support it, noting it’s a good thing if managed correctly.
Wright said he felt they should focus on “unity” rather than “diversity,” and asked whether the group promoted “white privilege.” Moser said no, it does not.
Wright said as long as the group proceeded as they described, he would rescind his motion made last month to disband it and board member Andrea Groth said she would rescind her second of the motion.
In other business:
- The board issued strict guidelines for public comment this month and allowed a total of 20 minutes on only the topic of the Diversity Council. Schuetz, who led this portion of the meeting, said they would allow five speakers for each side — against the Diversity Council and for it — each allowed only 2 minutes of speaking. The speakers were brought to the front of the room with a microphone.
Speaking against the Diversity Council were Laura Hooper, Brady Hoskins, Virgil Hallauer, Brian Hoskins and Jeanette Aller. Speaking in favor of the Diversity Council were Greg Bryant, Leah McPeak, Melissa Trujillo, Beverly Albertson and Shayna Leahy.
Comments and the entire board meeting can be heard on the Youtube.com streaming of the meeting at 415 BOE.
- The board members held discussions concerning a venue for meetings as the crowd had grown larger and there had been requests to move it to a larger location to accommodate everyone. Board member Amy Kopp said she felt the district had an obligation to provide seats for everyone and adequate viewing. Board President Tom Simmer reminded that the meetings are being streamed on Youtube.com, so for those who come just to listen there is also that avenue. It was the general consensus of the board to keep at the board office at least one more month and see if the larger crowd continues.
- Superintendent Moser gave a health update on the district, noting that numbers were good and all school buildings were in the green — the lowest concern — according to gaiting criteria. He told board members that he had been in contact with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment concerning the testing that had been voted to be implemented at all schools. He said KDHE determined that since the district had voted to opt out of the recommended quarantine guidelines, it was no longer eligible to receive those tests so they had been returned.
- District Maintenance Director Chris Morey gave updates on facilities, informing the board that the HVAC motor that had burned up at the middle school on Monday night during the power outage and brown-out had been replaced. He was keeping a close eye on any residual effects of a phase being dropped off that system. He said a compressor also went out on the big walk-in, also due to the power fluctuation that night.
Morey told the board that the woodshop boiler had issues firing up and it was determined that the flu had been left open and water and gotten into the burn chamber. He said that also had been fixed.
At the HHS, a compressor in an HVAC system had gone out in one of the pods and it was running on half power until it could be repaired.
He also advised of a 3-inch water main leak at the HMS that will be fixed on Friday when school is not in session.
- The board held a lengthy discussion on controls for all of the HVAC systems throughout the district’s facilities. Morey had previously asked for permission for new thermostats and he said basically the entire control units in all of the buildings are going bad. He provided two estimates to replace this and the board discussed the differences in the estimates, as one was twice as large as the other. He said he is having trouble controlling temperatures in all of the buildings and has no scheduling capabilities. Although these HVAC systems are only five years old, he said the company that installed said some of the controllers are obsolete now.
- After reviewing the estimates, the board voted to put the controllers out for bids.
- The board discussed an issue of available gym time for the middle school girls basketball teams. HMS Principal Kylie Gatz told the board that the National Guard Armory was available for use however there would be strict regulations including mask requirements, no food and stringent cleaning regiments required for any use. There was some discussion of moving some basketball practices and games to the high school, depending on need from the volleyball team and high school basketball teams as they hold practices. There was discussion of having more early morning practices.
Gatz told the board that she would continue to explore all options as the first HMS girls game was next week.
- The board discussed discipline and behavior issues at the school and how these situations affected regular ed and Special Ed.
- Following Executive Session, the board voted to hire Robyn Kolb as Human Resources director at the board office — filling the position that will be left vacant by the retirement of Jill Sprick after the first of the year.