School board meeting draws crowd

Parents concerned that sexuality was discussed in class without parent permission

It was standing room only at the Dolores School District Board of Education meeting Tuesday night and many of those that attended were in for the long haul.

Community members were upset about a variety of things, ranging from the Confederate Flag ban to letters of recommendation that were not written for high school students, and many voiced their concern about the subject of homosexuality being taught in class.

The public meeting lasted until about 11 p.m., following which the school board went into executive session with the high school and middle school's administration until just before 1 a.m. No action was taken in executive session.

The public comment session of the meeting was lively.

Lenetta Shull told a story about a friend she had in high school who took her own life because she was not accepted because of her sexual preference.

"Someone who is professionally trained needs to teach about sexual preference and how to develop coping skills," Shull told the board.

Shull also spoke on behalf of the Student Parent Coalition, a recently formed group of concerned parents.

"The SPC has been shunned," Shull said.

Shull read policy to the board, which included a policy that stated the board was to approve committee members and a policy that stated that parents were to give written permission if sexuality or human reproduction were to be discussed in class, something, she claims, that was not done recently.

"Please take the time and help us make our school better than it has been before," Shull said.

Other parents were concerned that grades were not put in on time.

Keith Moore read a lengthy letter from the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, which was sent to Dolores School District Superintendent Scott Cooper and posted online, that stated the act of banning the Confederate flag was a violation of students' right to freedom of speech.

Another letter recently surfaced from a lawyer, retained by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, which was written by Randy D. Lucas of the Lucas Law Firm, which followed the letter that Moore read at Tuesday's meeting.

"My clients prefer not to resort to litigation to resolve this matter but designating the Confederate Flag as a symbol of 'hate' and banning it from school premises absent the necessary forecast that its display would substantially disrupt the educational environment clearly violates your students' free speech rights. We specifically ask that you reconsider this policy and bring your school policies in line with existing law," the letter stated.

The letter also stated: "Your inclusion of the Confederate Flag in with the Nazi swastika shows a shocking lack of historical knowledge and denigrates the valiant men whose conscience compelled them fight for the South in the Civil War to hatemongers. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Moore added that he was not a part of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, but wanted to share the first letter written to the board with the board and to read it into public record.

Parent Shelly Purkat said she was upset because her middle school student, along with others, were told to do an assignment on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights as part of a civil rights assignment and go to a presentation at the high school. The class was given cupcakes with rainbow flags on them.

"There was nothing sent home to make parents aware of what was going on," Purkat said.

She continued that she felt the school has an agenda regarding LGBT, "Students have to tolerate what seems to be someone else's agenda."

Several kids did not want to go to the presentation, she added, but were told they would have to write an essay and not get a cupcake, but those that attended were set up to be targeted.

"They were put in a situation that made them feel very uncomfortable," she said. "It is the parents job to teach about gays, not the schools. We teach our children that all are created equal."

She added that some students went home to their parents and told them they think they are gay after going to this presentation.

"Students are there to learn and there are way too many distractions that interfere," Purkat said. "Do your job as teachers and administrators and we will do our job as parents."

In response to the allegations made by Purkat, High School Principal Brandon Thurston sent this response by e-mail:

"This content was taught in the context of a greater civil rights unit. Class discussions, readings, and presentations included elements of discrimination through a range of subgroups. The unit kicked off with discussion surrounding the civil right movement and how populations have been affected over time. Race, disability, and sexual orientation are some examples of groups that have experienced discrimination firsthand. The students were also given an alternative assignment that would allow them to explore groups not covered in class (women, children, native, etc.). The primary focus was on how prejudice may affect our lives and the lives of our friends and families. Contextual reading and being able to discern information and perspectives through critical thinking and collaboration is essential in today's classrooms.

"The students were all given an outline of the unit with a description of each subunit and the alternative assignment. Giving a handout to students and expecting that handout to get home to parents does not always work. It was not the best avenue to communicate what the intention of the lesson was. I feel that communicating what is happening in classrooms with parents early and often is a key to a successful partnership."

Also Tuesday, parents were upset about Thurston not writing letters of recommendation. Thurston was later instructed by board member Jon Kelly to make sure that happened.

"It is my opinion, we have brought these students through 14 years of school, if they attended preschool here and letters of recommendation need to be top priority and we need to move heaven and earth to make that happen, especially if it means the difference of getting into college or getting the money to go to college."

Also Tuesday, board members were reminded that CHSAA rules make it clear that student athletes do not get compensation, of any kind, including certificates for food, for their performance.

"We can not give monetary value gifts to student who do well on athletics," Cooper said.

Early release Wednesday were also discussed, during which Shull said she has been volunteering on Wednesdays to help with the after school and homework help programs set up to accommodate the 2 p.m. release on Wednesdays and found that at one point there were 48 students being supervised by one adult.