Allendale school board prioritizes MASB membership over standing up for parents
Published May 4, 2023
Written by Athens
Photography by Simply American
On September 29, 2021, the National School Board Association (NSBA) sent a letter to The White House asking for federal law enforcement to assist them in dealing with parents who were coming to school board meetings to protest mask mandates and critical race theory curriculum.
NSBA said the parents’ actions could be the equivalent of domestic terrorists and hate crimes.
Many Other State School Board Associations Dropped Support Of NSBA, But Not Michigan
Though the NSBA apologized a month later, 25 states left the NSBA over the letter that sought to keep parents from protecting their children by speaking against policies at school board meetings. But not Michigan. The Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) remained with NSBA.
In response to MASB’s decision to remain with NSBA, the Michigan Senate sent the association a letter of concern:
“Parents have the right to speak up when it comes to how their children are being educated, and they should forever have the right to make their voices heard. The NSBA’s view of them as “domestic terrorists” is offensive to millions of Michigan families who are properly invested in their children’s lives, and rightly concerned about the direction of their local schools.”
The senators continued, “We believe that ending MASB’s membership and affiliation with the NSBA is in the best interest of all involved, especially for our most important stakeholders–Michigan students and parents.”
Despite the letter, MASB continued its membership and affiliation with NSBA.
APS Board Responds With 5 Yes And 2 No Votes To Keep MASB
MASB membership has been a topic on the table with the APS School Board since Board Member Liz Ramey raised issues of concern about the organization on January 9, 2023.
On April 17, 2023, the item was again on the agenda. With five yes votes to renew Allendale’s membership, President Corey Mango and Board Members: Kim Canata, Pam DeJong, Kevin Hostege, and Josh Thurkettle continued their support and affilliation of MASB, the association that still supports NSBA.
Vice President Anna Hendricks and Board Member Liz Ramey stood by their promise to advocate for parental rights and both voted no to renewing the membership.
“My vote,” Hendricks said, “will be ‘no.’ I will not support MASB when they continue to support and refuse to break ties with the National School Board Association as urged by our Michigan Senate.”
“During the pandemic, parental rights and our constitutional rights were squashed.”
Hendricks also pointed out that MASB membership costs $5376 annually. ”When it comes to board member education, anybody can access the MASB website for free to gain all the information or education that they provide.
“Any board member can take MASB classes, if so desired, without a membership. The cost difference would only be $130 compared to $100. So in my opinion we’re spending district money on things that we already have.”
Though SET SAG legal consultation is provided through the MASB membership, Superintendent Dr. Garth Cooper clarified that coverage would continue for Allendale for another year if the MASB membership were cancelled.
Parental Rights In The Balance
The discussion turned to the value and content of MASB class offerings. Thurkettle spoke in favor of classes he had attended. “I’ve never been to a class where it was presented that, ‘We’re indoctrinating you to push this agenda of information back to your local school.’ I’ve never felt that.”
Ramey said she had looked through some of the classes the MASB offers. “They have a course they give that’s called ‘Beyond Equity.’ The tagline for the course is, ‘How to promote social justice in the classroom.’ So they do dabble in some of those things. I will take the stance that that’s not the school’s role: cultural wars and social justice.”
Holstege said that he hadn’t gone to any of the MASB conferences because of his work schedule, but that it was one of his goals to find time. He said he would like to “try to fight from the inside and change some of the stuff I don’t agree with, and make them explain to me why they make the statements they do.”
“My conflict,” Mango said, “is I think we have a great resource and yes, they offer some classes that have some titles that don’t look good. But, I can tell you that the classes I’ve have taken, the context of the conversations that I’ve had, are very supportive. So all my interactions with them are good.”
“And then they turn around,” Mango continued, “and they don’t support the parents who want to stand there and yell at me and you know that’s okay. That’s America for that person to stand there and disagree with what I say.”
DeJong said that she believes the advantages of the classes and conferences far outweigh that one aspect of the organization.
In response, Hendricks reiterated that a membership wasn’t needed to attend. “Just to clarify, you can access all this information. You can still take the classes. It’s still available for anybody.”
Parent Responds To Board Support Of MASB
One public commenter said, “If we vote to be members of the MASB, then we are also supporting the Federal School Board Association. Michigan was silent, silent about citizens, taxpayers, parents like you and me being labeled domestic terrorists. Since then the NSBA has withdrawn, apologized, and denounced their letter, but the first draft was going to actually request National Guard and military police dispatchment to meetings.”
“The point bringing all that out about the first draft is to just illustrate the appetite for the control of the direction that that these boards are moving, and it isn’t particularly the national board. (The fact) that the MASB stood silently by during the public outcry, is telling of their stance. This board is making a statement to parents in supporting the association which has a known leftist, progressive leaning.”
And with a roll call vote, 5 Allendale school board members voted to continue the $5K MASB membership despite these facts: MASB resources are available with or without a membership, SET SAG will remain with Allendale either way for another year, MASB class offerings include social justice content, and MASB stood silent when parents were likened to domestic terrorists.
An Unexpected Amendment Handed Superintendent Sole Responsibility of Which Law Firm To Choose
Also decided that evening was a motion to add a secondary law firm, Clark Hill, as a supplement to Kallman Legal Group.
Canata moved to amend that motion to allow the superintendent to dictate which of the two law firms, Kallman Legal Group or Clark Hill, to use at his discretion.
Those who supported the amendment were: Mango, Canata, DeJong and Thurkettle.
Those who opposed: Hendricks, Holstege, and Ramey.
Once the amendment passed, the motion was then made to choose Clark Hill as the secondary law firm, giving the superintendent sole responsibility of dictating when to use which firm.
Those who voted yes were: Mango, Canata, DeJong, Holstege, and Thurkettle.
Those who voted no were: Hendricks and Ramey.
Ramey Comments On Sudden Elimination Of ECC Preschool Session
During her board comment, Ramey again stood up for parents, noting there were “some switches with the preschool situation.” The Early Childhood Center had unexpectedly eliminated its morning preschool session leaving only afternoon sessions available. Ramey stated she had “found out about the incident via social media.”
Ramey asked that during the next work meeting a template be developed for the superintendent to use for updating the board on situations they “could potentially support or intervene in.” She said that while she appreciated the hard work to find a solution for families, “we could be a little bit more proactive.”
During the April school board meeting, Hendricks and Ramey continued to stand for parents’ rights while other board members prioritized MASB membership and decreased oversight of the superintendent.