Special to The Gardner News
Residents addressed school board members about the gating criteria for students attending school in person at the USD 231 February board meeting.
A few Gardner residents pointed out the survey that had been sent to Topeka showing the Gardner-Edgerton school district being in school in person in some capacity.
Gardner Pastor Andrew Thomas said the board had purposely misled parents.
“It’s more a political decision than the health of the kids,” he said.
Thomas said accountability was needed and was owed to the students and parents.
“I’m more concerned why the decision was made now than over how,” he said.
Thomas said a committee member from Topeka had called and spoken to his son about remote school. “Multiple times the surveys were filled incorrectly,” he said.
Shawn Carlisle, board president, repeatedly interjected Thomas stating his information was incorrect.
Carlisle said the board had rebutted the survey, and they looked forward to the investigation into the clerical errors and misinformation.
Rob Shippy, board member, said people had intentionally filled out the document.
Thirty year resident Jennifer Whitlow said she didn’t want to be addressing the board but was thrilled the school district had gone to hybrid.
“I am afraid it is going to be taken away from them,” she said.
Whitlow said she has a seventh grader and a junior in high school in her house.
“I am concerned they will be jerked around and where they will be going forward,” she said. “The gating criteria is still in the red.”
Whitlow said she is concerned what gating criteria will be used to pull students back to the remote learning model.
“I haven’t seen you driving towards putting kids in school full time,” she said. “We have got to get kids back in the classroom.”
Carlisle said their gating criteria is based off of the CDC criteria adopted by Johnson County Health Department.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner said she wanted to know why previous taxpayer money had been used on an email to her rather than correcting the clerical errors in the survey.
Baumgardner said she routinely visits the Gardner-Edgerton school district for events, activities and competitions and online board meetings.
“I have never declined a USD 231 invite,” she said.
Baumgardner said when a fifth year senate education committee chair asked her about the district they said it was unfortunate the district’s middle and high school students hadn’t attended school in person for the school year.
“We are one of three districts in the state that has lacked face to face school experience,” she said. “That is a fact and not emotional.”
Baumgardner said she had heard from district employees who were scared to speak up due to what is called the ‘Gardner-Edgerton thought police’.
“I am not retaliating,” she said. “Administration doesn’t dictate who I talk to or statements and questions I make and communicate with.”
Carlisle said it was the first time he had met Baumgardner.
Baumgardner said she has attended and participated in district events for years and never seen the board members at any of the legislature coffees and events.
Tressa Boden, board member, said she wanted to know why the State of Kansas wasn’t working together as a state to open the schools the same way Iowa did.
“Why can’t we achieve as a state of Iowa-all public schools in person by February 15,” she said. “Why can’t we get there.”
Baumgardner said the schools closing March 2020 was a surprise to all Kansas legislators, and they didn’t find out from Governor Laura Kelly.
“No one was at the table,” she said.
Boden said they were all left out to flounder and nobody higher up steps up to the plate.
Baumgardner said it is because Kansas is a State that runs with the philosophy of local control trumps all. “You don’t tred on local control,” she said.
Pam Stranathan, superintendent, hadn’t seen the information presented to Baumgardner and wanted to know why she hadn’t tried to call Stranahan or the district.
Baumgardner said she was reassured that the survey had been filled out correctly even though she knew it was inaccurate.
Stranathan said Baumgardner had the opportunity to state publicly that it wasn’t accurate but made statements instead that weren’t accurate. “You chose not to contact us directly,” she said. “We sent back everything we had and didnt receive the opportunity to show what we were doing as a district. It is a slap.”
Baumgardner said she acknowledged that the survey was confusing and misentered by the State Department of Education.
Carlisle said it should have been discussed with them. “There should be a relationship,” he said.
Boden said communication would be nice.
“The community thinks we lied,” she said.
Baumgardner said she didn’t have time to pick up the phone to address not receiving accurate information by the Department of Education. “But why did this administration write a nine page accusation letter against me,” she said.
Board members said they wanted to know if Baumgardner would be there if she hadn’t been accused.
Baumgardner said she wouldn’t be at their Monday board meeting if it weren’t for the nine page letter.