"Below the belt." That was another person's statement.
"I've never seen a school board do this to parents." was a comment from one TV reporter on the scene.
That about sums up our experience tonight at the Wentzville School Board meeting in the Wentzville School District. Personally, I've never seen such a display of arrogance and disregard for the people that they apparently serve. If I hadn't been there, I wouldn't have believed it. But I'm getting ahead of myself....
The evening started pleasent enough, with excellent weather, a good turnout (50-60 people), and plenty of sense of purpose. Our agenda, as a group, was to speak to the board about our concerns regarding the censorship policy of the Wentzville School District, and lack of communication with Wentzville administrators and Wentzville board members, and in support of a great teacher. We didn't want to make the evening about the faults of a particular person. We wanted to air the issues regarding our kids, about our attempts to work with the district, and the unnecessary loss of a great teacher.
Every school district in its right mind knows that success hinges on working with parents to address issues. And any good administrator or manager knows that nipping problems when they are small keeps them from becoming big. Every school district seriously pursuing educational excellence appreciates parents that care...
... and then there's Wentzville School District.
Instead of open and honest communication between parents and Wentzville board members, which they've continued to dodge, the agenda was all about Principal Winston Rogers. It seems that the Wentzville Administration and the Wentzville School Board conspired to censor the parents!
Yep, you read that right. Parents and students were censored at an "open" forum. How? Arbitrary policy, of course...one of the core issues that we find so abhorent in the district. According to the posted board meeting policy...
Addressing the Board
Public comments are welcome at each regular Board meeting during the period designated for citizen statements. To address the Board, sign in before the meeting convenes at 7 p.m. at the Board table. Citizens will be called to the podium by the Board president to make comments which must be limited to three minutes
So, accordingly, we came early to sign up in order to voice our concerns. Several students and parents signed up prior to the meeting to speak. We also knew that comments may be limited, just based on time.
Little did we know how limited....
At the beginning of the open forum section of the Wentzville School District board meeting, the board president, Dale Schaper, made the astonishing statement that - according to some policy that I have yet to be able to find in their posted policies - comments would be limited to 15 minutes, and only the first five people that signed up would be allowed to speak. This was in obvious collusion because - surprise - four of the first five speakers were friends and family of Winston Rogers.
We got to hear how misguided and immoral we, the parents, were for speaking out for our children's education. (Umm... this might be a bit embarrassing, but... yeah, we're right behind you.) What a great job Winston Rogers is doing, and as an example he's making the teachers dress up so they look better. (Teachers leaving, students upset, parents angry... obviously these aren't as important as having a nice pantsuit!) How the teachers that influence students (I call that teaching) should be ashamed. During this show, the parents and students that had come to talk about issues, and not people, left the meeting.
How do I know this was planned? First, the people that had managed to get the "golden tickets" to speak were there LONG before we arrived. I personally arrived 45 minutes prior to the meeting, and they were already seated inside. Second, according to the board's own policy, posted on the doors of the meeting room, they have the right to extend comment time based on necessity. Board President Dale Schaper apparently didn't notice the extra 50-60 people in the room (Again you don't see us? Honestly people, we're right here!), and obviously felt there were no other issues to discuss.
After we had vacated the room, with shouts of "stack the deck", "censor the parents" and "that's okay, we'll just talk with the media", one board member, Mike Cecil, did notice there was an angry elephant in the room, and motioned that our group should be allowed to speak. Dale Schaper begrudingly allowed one speaker from the group, since he deemed that having one student speak out for such a large issue was equivilent to having four people speak out about.... well, nothing!
The Timberland High School senior newspaper editor spoke of how she has accomplished much under Coach McCandless, and how thanks to her, she is now proudly the 4th best highschool editor in the country (based on national competitions a few months ago.) At this comment, a dismissing snicker was heard from Assitant Superintendent Melody Marcanotonio... a supportive and professional response to an aspiring journalism student overcoming dyslexia, don't you think?
And where was Mr. Rogers, since the public comments were all about lauding his ability to make teachers buy a new wardrobe, and how he struggles against immoral parents that make their kids think? And how the school is such an improving place, by refusing to even return a greeting of "good morning" to my son, and attempting to save us from pictures of teenage girl's shoulders? Witnesses saw him in the building, but he didn't have the courage to attend the meeting or even look at the parents he helped to ire.
So, not only was this shocking and insulting to the students and parents, it was high drama for the media in attendance. Local TV news teams from the NBC and CBS affliates in St. Louis were in attendance, as well as a reporter from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Comments I garnered from the reporters told me that they had never seen a school board act as arbitrary and arrogant toward students and parents before, and they were in agreement that there was a deep and definite issue in the Wentzville School District.
And still, we the parents, that simply want to talk to the board and administration, are still ignored and in the dark. The sad part about all this, is that I'm sure that somewhere out there, a surprisingly shy Mr. Rogers, an overly-comfortable (and, up for re-election) Wentzville School Board president, and others in the Wentzville School District administration are lying in bed with a feeling they have won. They feel that they've accomplished something... but I doubt they can put their finger on it.