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Tag Archive | "Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn"

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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School board selects new trustee


 

Matt McConnon was appointed on Tuesday, January 23, to fill a vacant seat on the Cedar Springs Board of Education. Courtesy photo.

But question arises on whether he can serve

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education held a special meeting Tuesday evening, January 23, to fill the board seat vacated by Patricia Eary last week when she resigned. The board interviewed six candidates, and voted 6-0 to appoint Matt McConnon, of Courtland Township, to fill the seat until January. He was sworn in at the end of the meeting by School Resource Officer Deputy McCutcheon.

Several of the board members felt McConnon’s 10 years of experience in policy making and budgeting on the Courtland Township board would be beneficial to the school board. It remains to be seen, however, whether they will get to use his expertise.

“After we appointed Matt McConnon to the BOE, it came to light that there could be an outside concern with the incompatible office law as Matt is a trustee on the Courtland Township Board,” said Board President Heidi Reed.

“With the first look, the two positions (Township Trustee and BOE) appeared to only have a ‘potential of incompatibility,’ which meant the law did not apply. Matt’s longstanding board service to Courtland Township is to be admired. We have been in contact with Matt and we will amicably resolve this situation after we have gathered the facts,” she said. 

The concern arose because at the end of the meeting, the Post found, after speaking with Mr. McConnon, that he was still serving on the Courtland Township board. He explained that Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn had checked into it, and told him that there should be no conflict of interest since Courtland Township doesn’t do much voting on school issues.

However, the Post remembered that there was a similar case eight years ago, involving our own school board and the Cedar Springs City Council, and that the Kent County Prosecutor had deemed the two offices incompatible.

In that case, Pamela Conley, who was a Board of Education trustee, ran for Cedar Springs City Council in 2009 and won a seat. Both lawyers for the city and the school eventually agreed that the offices would be in conflict, and decided to send it to then Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth for a final opinion. He sent back his decision, explaining why the offices were incompatible. He also told Conley she needed to resign one of the offices by a certain date or he would file charges in Circuit Court. She decided to resign her BOE seat and still serves on the Cedar Springs City Council.

According to the opinion issued by Forsyth in January 2010, in which he cited the Public Offices Act, State Attorney General opinions and Supreme Court opinions, he noted that a person could serve on both boards if they do not negotiate or enter into contracts with one another, which the city and school do. “Of equal significance, an individual cannot avoid the incompatibility by abstaining from voting on resolutions…because abstention under such circumstances ‘is itself a breach of duty.’” He specifically mentioned the city collecting the taxes for the school, and the city conducting school board elections, and the school reimbursing the city for them.

Courtland Township does the same.

The Post emailed Board of Education President Heidi Reed and Superintendent Van Duyn to inform them of the prior case. Reed told the Post they would check into it. She then later issued her statement cited earlier in this article.

The Post will update this story when we know more.

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School board dismisses complaints against Superintendent


 

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education passed a resolution 4-2 Monday evening to dismiss several complaints filed against Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn, including one filed by board member Ted Sabinas.

The board went into closed session Monday evening before voting on the resolution. The two board members voting against the resolution included Vice President Brooke Nichols and trustee Michelle Bayink. The resolution was read but there was no discussion.

The Post asked for a copy of the resolution, which was handwritten, from both Board President Matthew Shoffner, and the Superintendent’s office, but received no response from either.

According to Sabinas and others present at the meeting, the resolution dismissed complaints filed by Sabinas, Sue Wolfe, and Tammie Drake, which all asked for an investigation into whether Dr. VanDuyn had violated the school’s bullying and harassment policy (1162) in a statement she made to Sabinas in a previous board meeting on April 24, 2017. It happened during a presentation on privatizing the transportation services. Sabinas had tried to attend what was listed as an informational meeting between the bus drivers and administrative team, but was locked out. Sabinas said he was told that the drivers voted it down during that meeting, but that VanDuyn and Transportation supervisor Jerry Gavin then walked out and met privately, then went back into the meeting and told the drivers that if they voted against it, Gavin would be out of a job, but if they voted for it, he would work for Dean. The vote then passed. The statement under question from VanDuyn was uttered in an effort to explain why she and Gavin went outside.

“You had your truck backed in the parking lot and they felt stalked or intimidated by you sitting in the parking lot. And, so we had to check and see if things were safe for our drivers,” she said.

Sabinas had asked for an independent investigation. It was reportedly handled by Shoffner and treasurer Heidi Reed.

Sabinas reported that under the resolution, there would be no mention of the complaints in the Superintendent’s file.

The passage of the resolution did not stop people from airing their complaints during public comments. Many people addressed the board Monday evening, including current and former employees, and at least one high school student.

Teacher Erin Cairy (wife of former Asst. Superintendent Dave Cairy), who took a leave of absence this year to stay home with her three-year-old son, said the 2015/16 year was demeaning and toxic, and she had feared returning to the vicious things said about her family both verbally and on social media. After she submitted her leave of absence in August, many of her colleagues reached out to her, as did parents of the students she was to have, but the administration did not communicate with her at all. She said she sent emails and texts asking how she could help with the transition but they were not answered. She wrote a personal letter that she hoped to have delivered to the parents of her students, but it was not. She said she sent emails asking if she still had insurance. Those also went unanswered. On Sept. 4 she said she sent one final email begging for communication, but it also was not answered.

Kristina Cassiday also spoke. She worked for 13 years in the teaching and learning office. She said that she had always felt respected and well-liked by the principals, teachers and support staff, and had been thought of as dependable, trustworthy, knowledgeable and hardworking. However, she said that prior to her leaving, she was accused of unprofessional and unethical practices, including deleting appointments from Asst. Superintendent Jo Spry’s calendar; inappropriate charges on a purchase card; releasing confidential budget information to staff members; and cheating the system, in regard to vacation, sick and personal days. “This kind of leadership (false truths, devious, accusatory, strong arming and deceit) has spread fear and distrust throughout our district and community,” she said.

Senior Peyton Elliston spoke about how “our once cohesive, friendly town has turned into a divided battleground that has pitted teacher against teacher and student against student.” She talked about how teachers help students, and not just academically, but also as a mentor, and how several of those teachers she relied on as mentors were now gone. “I’m standing before all of you today to tell you that this—without a doubt—affects the students,” she said. She questioned how the people that are supposed to help students feel safe can do that when they don’t feel safe themselves. “Multiple staff members have stood before you over the last two years, simply asking for your help because they feel bullied and intimidated, yet you haven’t even acknowledged them, because they keep coming back. Imagine having a playground bully you can’t escape, and your repeated cries for help fall on deaf ears.” She noted that they are sending a message to students that their voices are insignificant.

Retired teacher Peggy Hansen asked why the board is turning a blind eye to all the controversy. She said teachers need to be reassured that they can speak out without retaliation. She also asked why the board is not getting back to community members regarding the questions they ask.

Teachers Union representative Brett Burns also spoke while 30-plus teachers stood behind him. “We stand before you this evening as a unified group of educators who you trust with your children every day. We want you to know that we love our kids, we are positive, we are united, we are hopeful. We want to begin the very important process of mending fences in order to build bridges to a bright future. Knowing that you want the same thing for our community and its children, we are extending an invitation for an open dialogue between educators and you, the members of the Cedar Springs Board of Education. We look forward to working as a team on this shared goal. Thank you for listening to this positive, caring majority who deeply desire the best for our staff, our community, and most importantly our kids,” he said.

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School board member files complaint against Superintendent


 

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education meeting held Monday evening—where at least 10 people spoke against Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn during public comment—culminated with trustee Ted Sabinas stating that he was filing a complaint against her for bullying.

Sabinas read his complaint aloud during board comments and then gave it to Board President Matt Shoffner to process.

“During the board meeting of April 24th, I believe that Dr. VanDuyn made an inappropriate calculated statement in an effort to discredit me,” said Sabinas. “Her statement is clearly a violation of our Neola policy 1662 Anti Harassment. Making this comment by stating someone else originally made the comment cannot be considered appropriate.” He also asked for her to be put on immediate leave and an independent compliance officer be hired to investigate the complaint.

His complaint refers to the April 24 board meeting, when they were discussing the possible privatization of transportation, and Dr. VanDuyn made a comment about the bus drivers feeling stalked or intimated by Sabinas.

Prior to that meeting, Sabinas had attempted to attend a meeting between the bus drivers and administration to learn more about the privatization and speak to staff but was locked out of the building. (He had been given permission to attend during March’s board meeting by Board president Matt Shoffner but that was later rescinded.)

At the April 24 Board meeting, bus driver Becca Fisk was speaking about the bus driver vote and how it was done. Sabinas said that he had heard that there was more than one vote by the bus drivers. He said he was told that the vote was initially no, and that the Superintendent and Jerry Gavin (the transportation supervisor) then had a private meeting, and then went back into the meeting with the drivers and told them that if they didn’t privatize, Mr. Gavin would be done in June; but if they did privatize, that he would then work for Dean’s Transportation for 5-7 years. He said he was told that another vote was then taken and it had passed, out of loyalty to Mr. Gavin.

It was then that Dr. VanDuyn made the statement that Sabinas is filing a complaint about.

She said she could speak to this. “There was an issue—we had bus drivers who were very uncomfortable because they didn’t want you to enter their meeting, and you were insisting you would be at their meeting, and you had your truck backed in, and they felt stalked or intimidated by you sitting in the parking lot and so we had to check and see if things were safe for our drivers.” She then looked at Becca Fisk. “You can attest to what you said about anyone being in the meeting other than Ken, Jerry and I with the departments.”

“And so Jerry and I did step out,” she continued, “and talked about whether you (Sabinas) were still there, this was a problem for our drivers, and Becca you can attest to…”

At that point she was interrupted by VP Brooke Nichols, who said she thought they should stick to the agenda.

Dr. VanDuyn responded with, “Ken, Jerry, and I know what happened in the meeting and what the votes were.”

Sabinas said in his complaint that “for Dr. VanDuyn to make bullying comments towards one of her employers shows a total lack of respect for the board and is an act of insubordination. If we allow these types of actions by the district leader we are telling the staff and students that it is completely OK to make bullying and harassment comments to anyone they encounter. The example that Dr. VanDuyn chose to demonstrate does not represent the core values of our district.”

Sabinas asked that Dr. VanDuyn be placed on immediate leave of absence and be restricted from school activities until an independent compliance officer can be hired and rule on the harassment and bullying complaint.

According to the Board’s policy, the Superintendent is the compliance officer that would normally investigate complaints. But Sabinas said he consulted with the legal division of the Michigan Association of School Boards, and they advised him to request an independent compliance officer.

“You can’t have her or a close associate investigate a complaint about her. I know we’ve had other complaints about the Superintendent that she or someone who works for her has investigated. The school lawyer is also not the right person because he has the needs of the school in mind,” explained Sabinas.

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, there were many public comments supporting Sabinas and condemning Dr. VanDuyn’s statement about stalking. Staff also spoke about fear of speaking up about things, saying that they had felt intimidated and manipulated, and were afraid of being targeted or reassigned. Several speakers asked for an investigation into Dr. VanDuyn.

Board member Heidi Reed spoke up and said that if there were an investigation, she would bring forth evidence showing that Sabinas had also bullied Dr. VanDuyn.

Sabinas said that he is not the type of board member that just takes what he is told by administration at face value. “I ask a lot of questions. I don’t rubber stamp things,” he explained. “People expect me to do what I say. I campaigned on being thorough, investigating, and talking to people.”

But Sabinas said that right now, it’s hard to do that. “I’m being blocked. Various staff members have said they were asked not to talk to me, and were told they would be fired. So they won’t talk,” he said.

He said it’s not routine in a school district that board members cannot speak to staff or ask them questions. “We have a lot of uniqueness going on here,” he said.

During Monday’s board meeting, Dr. VanDuyn listened but did not respond to complaints from residents and staff.

The Post emailed Board President Matt Shoffner on Tuesday, May 23, asking for a statement on what he was doing with the complaint, but did not have a response by Wednesday evening at press time.

The Post also emailed Dr. VanDuyn and gave her the opportunity to make a statement, but did not receive a response by press time.

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