Chesterton Tribune

 

 

School Board votes again to keep district closed to transfers

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By LILY REX

The Duneland School Board reaffirmed its position on keeping the district closed to transfer students at a special meeting yesterday.

The Board scheduled the meeting following an Open Door Law complaint by Duneland resident John Doyle. The Indiana Public Access Counselor subsequently issued an opinion in response saying that the Board was “asleep at the wheel” in its duties when it inadvertently closed the district to transfer students by passing all at once a packet of policy updates containing more than 40 amended policies that totaled over 100 pages at its August 2018 meeting.

The purpose of the meeting last night was to get public input and revote on Policy 5111, the policy that determines whether or not the district is open to transfer students, “to put to rest the legal validity of this policy,” according to Board Attorney Charles Parkinson.

Doyle was the first to step forward for public comment last night. He asked the Board to give him an honest answer whether or not the district was open and alleged that there isn’t proof Policy 5111 was passed legally.

Parkinson said the Public Access Counselor’s opinion doesn’t overturn the policy, though the conclusion of the opinion is that the Board’s August approval of the policy wasn’t done properly in the public eye and is vulnerable to a court order overturning the decision.

“It’s open. It can’t be closed,” Doyle said. “I’m just looking for honesty. It’s open.”

Board President Kroft said the Board and Parkinson disagree.

Doyle had a back and forth with the Board where he repeated his question several times. Kroft’s answer stayed the same.

“It can’t be closed. You never closed it legally. Period,” Doyle said.

“I respect your passion for this issue, you may not believe that, but I do. We have a difference of opinion, and I’m sorry for that,” Kroft said.

Doyle continued, saying the Board was refusing to answer if the district was open or closed.

“I’ve answered, and you just don’t like the answer,” said Kroft.

Parkinson reminded Doyle that the rules for public comment were laid out at the start of the meeting--each person gets three minutes to speak. “You’ve gone over the allotted time.”

Doyle questioned the Board’s public comment policy before yielding the floor. “Where do we get ‘allotted time?’ How do we have honest discussions about policies that change people’s lives, and you only give the public three minutes to talk about it? That needs to get changed.”

Three other members of the public spoke, imploring the Board to reconsider closing the district.

Mark Vittetoe, of Crown Point, was disappointed to find out that his son, a student at Discovery Charter who’s on the autism spectrum, can’t transfer to CHS next year. “It’s not just a piece of paper. These are students. There are families that have planned the next few years over where they’re kids are going to school,” Vittetoe said.

Denny Wilcox, Valparaiso resident with four kids in the district said, “This was like a blindside.”

Tianna Wilson said her son, also a Discovery student, has severe ADHD and was already very anxious about moving up from Discovery to CHS. “Sending him out there, I feel, is like just sending him to the wolves because of his severe impairments.”

The Board heard from Parkinson before the vote. He said the Board could reverse its August decision, but he feels the issue of public access has been rectified.

“When the Public Access Counselor says this was done improperly, no one takes that lightly at all,” Parkinson said. “But I think you’ve done almost everything you can do to make this an open and informed process.”

“You discussed it in September, you’ve taken any number of private opportunities to discuss this with individuals who’ve been affected by the policy, discussed it with the press, and held an entire meeting for the public to address it in February,” Parkinson said.

“I would suggest that you out of any school board in Indiana have thought more about this issue than any other school board,” said Parkinson.

The Board voted unanimously to keep the district closed for now.

Board member Kristin Kroeger commented after, saying the issue has brought extreme passion on both sides that isn’t lost on the Board.

Kroeger said closing the district has been a topic of discussion since 2013, and keeping it open would involve putting new administrative guidelines into place at a time when the Board’s energy is already stretched thin.

“We’ve reflected on it and thought a lot about it. This current process has taken the Board and distracted the Board from the two most important tasks we can ever be tasked with: ensuring our financial security from continuing our referendum and hiring and selecting a new superintendent to lead our schools,” Kroeger said.

“The Board has been heavily criticized, a lot of it warranted under the circumstances, but some of it not, and some of it very unfair,” said Kroeger.

Kroeger said the Board voted to keep the district closed not because they all agree it’s a permanent solution, but because it’s the right decision for the majority of students and staff right now.

“When we have the time to put those administrative guidelines in place, the Board will have this discussion again, but right now, we need to continue to focus on those two very, very, very important things,” Kroeger said.

Kroft echoed Kroeger. “This policy is going to be looked at again and reviewed once we have a permanent superintendent. And we’re not doing that simply for the purpose of the referendum. It’s going to be looked at well down the road, well past that time.”

 

Posted 4/24/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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