LORAIN — The Lorain School Board of Education unanimously passed a declaration of a state of emergency introduced from Academic Distress Commission board members Diane Conibear-Xander and Steve Cawthon at the joint school board meeting Monday evening.
“18 months ago, we were in academic distress, 18 months later, under House Bill 70 the district is operating in an environment with unsafe schools, a demoralization of staff and teachers and the leadership has been reckless,” Conibear-Xander said.
The media room of Lorain High School was overflowing with frustrated school faculty, students, alumni, community members at the Lorain School Board meeting. Nearly every seat was taken up and some were sitting on the floor.
The outpouring was for a joint meeting called by Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer for a meeting between him, the Academic Distress Commission and district CEO David Hardy. Hardy declined to attend, but it didn’t stop the crowd from expecting him.
The meeting took place less than a week after Hardy announced that Lorain High School staff would be expected reapply for their jobs. Hardy reversed that announcement Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the meeting.
Ritenauer gave a reading of the statement from Hardy about the suspension of the requirement. In the email Ritenauer pointed out that in an email announcing the suspension, the word “collaboration” was mentioned at least 5 times. But since he came to Lorain, Ritenauer said, Hardy has not shown any collaboration.
Ritenauer also sharply criticized House Bill 70 for not leaving any authority in the local government or the local school board to control the direction the system is going.
Under House Bill 70, if the district’s report card fails to improve sufficiently for its fourth year under academic distress — issued during the fifth school year — the mayor must appoint a new school board from a slate of candidates.
With Hardy being an outsider from the community and adding new Distress Commission Chairman Randall Sampson, who is also a nonlocal Columbus resident, Ritenauer said it creates a huge disconnect in the local community’s control of its own fate.
“What you have, though, is little oversight and you’ve seen the disaster slowly starting to build,” he said. “It’s like a normal thing in life, when you don’t have to answer to anybody, whether it’s a boss, whether you’re talking to kids or parents, you become emboldened. You feel you don’t have to explain your position.”
Conibear-Xander and Cawthon introduced a survey report from 332 teachers in the district about Hardy. In the presentation the two gave a few examples of the issues and loss of morale in the district with how Hardy has handled things.
When asked if teachers and building administrators work together as a collaborative and cohesive team in the best interest of the students, 44 percent strongly disagreed or disagreed; 25 percent were neutral. When asked if the culture and climate throughout the district is positive and they feel valued and respected as a teaching professional, 88 percent strongly disagreed or disagreed; 8 percent were neutral.
The report also gave startling information about the issues teachers are concerned about. The presentation covered urgencies including school safety, ethical concerns, finances, working conditions and academic concerns. The requirement for high school staff to reapply for their positions also was included in the presentation.
The report cited hostile, toxic work environments and a culture of fear and distrust, which also has made teachers have mental breakdowns and anxiety issues. School safety also has been an issue. Twenty-two fights were reported in a two-week period in January and February. Nine fights occurred in one day at Southview Middle School.
The report also revealed a General Johnnie Wilson Middle School administrator sent 1 ounce of marijuana to a central office secretary in a paper envelope. The General Johnnie Wilson Middle School principal was reported making unprofessional social media posts about Lorain Schools teachers and staff.
At the end of the presentation of their survey findings, Conibear-Xander and Cawthon said they need to find legal action toward Hardy’s plan to reconstitute Lorain High School, which they said violates HB 70.
Now that Randall Sampson has been appointed the new chairman of the commission, Conibear-Xander said the commission must meet as soon as possible to conduct an audit to analyze district finances and spending as well as a comprehensive Ohio Department of Education audit for the district’s operational standards and practices.
The rest of the meeting consisted of the faculty, students, alumni and parents as well as community members expressing their concerns about the direction the district has been taking under Hardy. Students spoke about their concerns for safety and the job security of teachers they’ve bonded with. Parents testified their support for the teachers and the difficulty of their children getting through school. Faculty approached the podium to talk about their struggles with the current work environment.
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