Photos courtesy of Lynn Hermanson

Depression, anxiety, and mental/emotion health were several of the major themes from the 60 parents/students who took the time to address board members at the Nov. 9 board of education meeting.
Those wishing to speak were told to wait in the parking lot until called; some waited up to two hours for a chance to speak. Just before 6 p.m. the Gardner Police Department was called to have protestors moved off of USD 231 property.
The Gardner News was not allowed into the building, but was “encouraged” to watch via livestream, which at times lags or has static. An e mail requesting a reporter be allowed to attend was not answered.
During the meeting, at least one parent questioned the district’s GPD call: Brian Higginbtham, who has two children in the district, said he was a proud Gardner Edgerton graduate, but that the district can do better than it has been. He said at 5:50 p.m. it was announced that the police department would be called if protestors did not disburse. “People have the right to protest,” he said. “All of you are up for election next time.”
He said he had been told no one had stepped forward to run,. “I will run,” he said. “I will fight for the best interests of our students.”
All patrons who spoke had to jump thru the “hoops” — new policy set up by the board. Before being approved to speak taxpayers were asked to: fill out a card prior to speaking; sit in the parking lot waiting to be called; and comments were limited to three minutes.
At least one patron was cut off mid sentence. Richard Grove, who attended with his family and said he had spoken at the last BOE meeting, over shot his time and was admonished that the family should have filled out four separate “speaking” cards as opposed to just one. The moderator did reset the clock once, and the daughter related how she felt that no one listened to her father and the nine other speakers at the last meeting.
It was like your mind was already made up, she said.
Megan Miller patron, said she chose the district six years ago and was instrumental in creating a parent group (RISE) regarding remote learning. She said the group was created to see if other parents had interest or concerns regarding remote, hybrid or in person learning. The membership grew faster than she ever imagined.
She said she wanted everyone to know the group does not bash the board and inappropriate posts are deleted. ”We heard you believe we are against you,” she said. “We aren’t. We are here to work with you.” Speaking to the Pam Stranathan, superintendent, she said, “Pam we have a community that needs you to listen.”
Patrick Ross, patron, also had a message for Stranathan: He said she had a volleyball team and “you took that club volley ball team to Olathe to practice. And as our superintendent do you know that shows you are putting sports above our children’s education?”
Ross said he had five children in the district, and three were involved in the remote learning “experiment.”
Several patrons and students said they believed the board put sports above academics and questioned why contact sports were allowed, but in school learning was not.
Andrew and Tyler Thomas, father and son, addressed the board. “We elected you,” Andrew said. “Not to uphold just the district, but the parents who elected you. Make a motion that our kids will go back in person.”
Thomas said the patrons could talk all day, but until a board member makes a motion to return to school, nothing will happen. He said at the last meeting the board said not enough people had stepped forward, and now patrons were there.
Tyler Thomas, son, said remote learning is not working. He said classes should be 82 minutes, but they are 40. It’s not the teachers’ fault he said, they were not trained in remote learning. The district should focus time and resources on returning kids to school rather than on remote learning.
A number of students and class officers spoke. Most mentioned they felt anxious, depressed and unmotivated. They reported having trouble learning and had headaches from so much screen time.
One said he had learned Zero Reasons Why — the district’s program regarding suicide last year – was just a publicity stunt and fundraiser. Where were concerns now that students were home alone. A parent also voiced a concern asking why notice had not been sent to parents when a GE student suicide happened last week.
Students reported classes that should be an hour in length were five minutes or 40. There was no one available to assist them with projects. Their mics might be muted by teachers before they had been completely answered. It wasn’t the teachers’ fault they said, teachers had not been properly trained in teaching remotely.
Problems with connectivity and “buffering” were also a problem, patrons said. Getting or staying online could be an issue, and at times transmission was garbled. Two younger students reported ZOOM codes were hacked and bad words had been inserted in lessons.
After talking with teachers, one patron reported comments regarding remote learning were all negative and not the glowing “sunshine” e mails the district routinely sent out.
Board members did not comment to the speakers..