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Commenters call for resignation of Superintendent and trustee

By Judy Reed

A standing room only crowd at Monday evening’s Cedar Springs Board of Education meeting made it clear to the Board of Education through their public comments that they feel the only way this community will heal from the division it is experiencing is for Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn to resign.

Many also called for newly appointed trustee Tim Bauer to resign as well, after they said they saw remarks he made on his personal Facebook account disparaging gays, and prophesying judgment on those in the community leading the effort to get Dr. VanDuyn to resign. The comments on his page have since been taken down.

A citizen group filed a petition last week at change.org calling for VanDuyn to resign, and ran an ad with the petition in last week’s Post to advertise a community meeting taking place tonight (Thursday at 7 p.m.) at Solon Township hall to discuss the issue. At press time Wednesday, over 1800 people had signed the petition.

Many of those people were at the board meeting Monday evening. 

The board heard from staff, students, community members, and even a former Board of Education member. Carolee Cole was on the BOE for 12 years, from 1998 to 2010. She said that the only person who could heal the divide is Dr. VanDuyn. “I strongly believe that it is impossible for our staff to be effective when they are experiencing the level of distraction and distress this division causes them on a daily basis,” said Cole. “Teachers can’t teach well when they are stirred up. Even the teachers who prefer Dr. VanDuyn’s style of leadership and feel safe and affirmed under her, can’t teach well if they are aware that many of their fellow teachers, the parents of their students, and others do not feel safe and affirmed under Dr. VanDuyn,” she said. Cole also noted that their had been a terrible breakdown in communication over the last three years. “Our side of the divide has invited open dialog. It has been refused or ignored. Your side of the divide has not created a forum for discussion and open dialogue. You can’t just keep telling educators to go along with the program.” Cole’s not sure the breach can be repaired. “Honestly, because we’re three years into the struggle I question whether it’s possible to continue Dr. VanDuyn’s tenure with the district. However well-meaning or gifted a leader she might be, she hasn’t been a good fit for the whole of Cedar Springs, obviously, and it’s time for this board to cut the losses to the District and replace her with someone who does fit and can nurture us back to the health our students need, and we once enjoyed.”

Teacher Libby Metiva read a statement on behalf of many teachers, who stood with her in solidarity. She noted that the teachers had stood there in June of 2017, and asked for the board to meet with them to help them build bridges, but it had not happened.

One of the students that spoke is president of the gay/straight alliance at the school. Her comments were directed at Bauer. She told him that she was not saying he should go against his beliefs, but that his comments were personally hurtful to her and others. “They leave scars,” she said.

Two people spoke in favor of VanDuyn. One was Pastor Keith Hemmila, and the other was bus driver Rebecca Fisk.

Hemmila said he was concerned about people’s motives for speaking out. “If it’s for the good of the kids and the school, that’s good. But if your motive is to get your way, that’s not good.” He said he appreciated Dr. VanDuyn. “She’s doing a lot of good for students left behind,” he said.

Rebecca Fisk said that a lot of people hadn’t given the Superintendent a chance, and noted that they had closed minds and closed hearts. “As a leader you hold people accountable for their actions. I’m a bus driver and I hold the kids accountable, that doesn’t make me a bully.” She also asked believers, “How much have you prayed about this?”

Some people that wanted to speak were not allowed to because they had not filled out a form at the beginning of the meeting. On Wednesday, Board President Heidi Reed posted an apology for that. “During our District’s last Board meeting, I did not allow an individual to speak during public comment because they had not signed our required comment form, as has been our consistent practice. Today, after consulting our Board bylaws and legal counsel, I realize that I should have allowed the comment. For this I apologize, and going forward, I will allow.” 

In the same letter, she also clarified the board’s position on Bauer’s comments and those of other board members. “Because the Board President is the official spokesperson for the Board, individual members are not speaking on the Board’s behalf when speaking in their own individual capacity. Just as our students do not sacrifice their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse doors, our individual Board members retain their individual rights as citizens when they volunteer to serve our school community,” she wrote.

During the meeting, Reed read a statement regarding the Superintendent: “Superintendents and Boards make difficult decisions considering input from all stakeholders. As a District, we have a strategic plan that sets the path for our leadership allowing the Board to measure the District’s progress toward its goals. Each of our decisions is made objectively on the facts, both positive and negative. To date, Dr. Van Duyn has brought many positive changes to the district and has scored as ‘highly effective’ on her last three evaluations.”

The Post asked Reed what would be the plan moving forward after hearing all the concerns Monday evening. “Each of our decisions is made objectively on the facts, both positive and negative. The Board will continue to listen to the community voice their concerns and will objectively evaluate these claims as part of Superintendent Van Duyn’s upcoming evaluation. Prior boards on three occasions have rated the Superintendent as Highly Effective.”

She also said any formal complaints brought to the board would be investigated. “CSPS has established policies and procedures in place for students, staff and parents to report complaints within the District. Each formal complaint brought to our attention is investigated and addressed accordingly,” said Reed.

Todd Norman, who will moderate the community meeting Thursday evening at Solon Township Hall, said the message was clear Monday evening. 

“The majority of the people of Cedar Springs are not happy with Leadership. They want a change. A recent survey showed the thing teachers want the most was a new Superintendent. Parents took a survey, too. In that survey the second most popular answer was new Superintendent. That was after security. The message was also clear that many felt board member Tim Bauer and his wife broke the Neola bylaws for publicly coming out against ‘the homosexual agenda’ on a Facebook post followed by a post that said, ‘To the degree that you have led this fight will be the degree God’s judgement will fall on you and your households.’

Many took this as a threat.”

Norman also remarked that a member of the community made a comment that the board members and Dr. VanDuyn were making notes and passing them back and forth while community comments were going on. “I witnessed this as well,” he said. 

Some community members have questioned whether that might be a violation of the Open Meetings Act, since text messages and other private acts of communication are not allowed.   

“It’s time to make a change,” said Norman. “This isn’t ok anymore.”

To watch the entire March 12 board meeting, visit the school’s web page for videos at http://www.csredhawks.org/District/Board-of-Education/Meeting-Minutes–Agenda/Board-Meeting-Videos/index.html. (Please note that as of Wednesday evening, it had not yet been uploaded.)

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