The Ballard School Board has decided to get some outside help with its parental rights policy in the aftermath of a recent controversy in the fourth-grade classroom.
The board voted unanimously during a special meeting March 22 to contract with Gamut, an outside vendor, to update school board policies as a whole. That includes but is not limited to the parental rights policy.
Pam Rennick, principal at Ballard Elementary School and the single-school district’s superintendent, said the nearby Solvang School District also recently contracted with Gamut to update its policies.
Board President Tracey Cassidy made a motion not to amend the current language of the parental rights policy until such time as the board can consult with Gamut, legal staff, teachers, and interested community members. The motion passed 2-1 with board member Art Kaslow voting in opposition.
Ms. Rennick discussed the current parental rights policy at the board meeting.
“Under the current policy, you have the right to come observe in a classroom and inspect the curriculum,” she said. “You have the right to a parent conference. You have the right to talk to me. You have the right to a report card and a progress report. All of these rights are guaranteed by the state of California.
“You have the right to opt out of a few very specific things,” Ms. Rennick said. “There are just four of them: sex education, HIV prevention education, any survey asking about family life and state testing.”
The staff also read a statement on the issue.
Three letters were read in support of modifying the parental rights’ policy. The letters were read on behalf of those who were unable to be in attendance. The first letter was from a Ballard family, and the second was from Rosanne Crawford, who ran in the fall for the county board of education trustee area 1, but was defeated. The third letter was from Tyrone Smith.
“Compassion takes effort; it takes focus. It takes commitment…We must acknowledge the following, those adversely affected by this decision and the unintended consequences,” said Ms. Crawford in her letter. “The child themselves, openly known as their identity was not protected in the way it was handled in the class announcement or in the Board of Education meeting. The teacher who was not included in the decision, (who) in fact wanted to pause to evaluate a path of action. Her authority (was) usurped by the principal.
“The other students in the classroom were left in confusion due to a lack of preparation to process the situation,” Ms. Crawford said. “The parents of the children in the classroom, who were blind-sighted, had to try to find out from their children what had transpired, resulting in questions they were not prepared to handle.”
“I find it pertinent to let you know that seven Ballard families are currently touring other schools and considering homeschooling. That is an alarming number in comparison to the size of our school,” said Rebecca Smith in her public comment.
In her public comment, Monica White said, “I think there is a practical matter that our parents’ right policy hasn’t been updated since 2011. Or there hasn’t been an opportunity to consider how these policies may be amended to reflect these changing times. I want our policies to protect the rights of the members of our community, to provide more clarity that will in turn protect students, teachers, parents, staff and all of us at Ballard. I think it’s a healthy step for the school board to consider that the current policies are inadequate to deal with circumstances such as these and our social progress.
“I think for this to be most effective, the school should consider expert opinion on these matters to make (sure) the rights of all members of society are protected on these matters as we continue to move forward,” she said. “Additionally, I think time should be spent gathering input from parents, from the teachers, and from appropriate legal counsel.”
Blair Storms, another public commenter, told the board, “Parents have the duty to protect their children’s rights until they are old enough to make their own way in the world. The authority to make decisions concerning this infecting the care, welfare and proper development of the child is known as parental responsibility.
“This responsibility and right was stripped from parents in this school when two parents in a position of great power, accompanied by our principal and superintendent, barge into a classroom without teacher and parent consent (and) convey a message that is very controversial.
“This is a gross abuse of power (that) shows the children that this subject is non-negotiable,” she continued. “They must abide by this pronoun.”
Ms. Storms said that even though children were told they didn’t have to use this pronoun, they were left to believe it was a requirement after three adults in positions of power discussed it.
“To be clear, this has nothing to do with this specific child’s identity. This has everything to do with rights,” Ms. Storms said. “Does one child’s right trump another if it fits a certain cause? What about parents? Does one parents’ rights hold above another especially when one or two of those parents hold positions of power?
“With this, I formally demand that board member Sean Conroy immediately resign for his abuse of power and can only hope that he understands and sees how inappropriate and damaging his misconduct was.”
Mr. Conroy is the father of the child who presented to the fourth-grade class her preferred name and pronouns, as previously reported by the News-Press.
“I am a part of a greater cause called the Coalition of Concerned Parents of Ballard School, and we urge the board today to adopt a clear and updated parent bill of rights, allowing us to have control over our children’s rights at all times, giving us the ability to opt out or in to presentation and conversations that we deem appropriate (or inappropriate) for our child,” Ms. Storms said.
Another public commenter addressing the board said she was the mother of a fourth-grade and has supported Mr. Conroy’s child. “My whole life I have been fighting for civil liberties, whether it’s black lives matter, whether it’s for gay rights. That’s not what the issue is.”
She said the issue is parental rights.
“We need to feel like you guys reflect our values. The board reflects the community …
“Look at your community. Look how we’re reacting. Please take sensitivity, and don’t do this to us again. Don’t ambush, and then be upset that we’re upset. You guys misrepresented the cause and I’m disappointed.”
Multiple commenters including Ms. Smith, Ms. White, William Murphy and others urged the board in their comments to establish a committee to review the proposed changes to the parents’ rights policy. Multiple commenters including Mr. Murphy advised that the committee include Ms. Rennick, one board member, a teacher, and some of the parents advocating for changes to the policy.
Board member Art Kaslow said he sees no resolution to the issue until the school board reviews the parental rights policy and makes sure that incidents are handled in a way that everyone feels their opinion is heard.
Mr. Conroy echoed Mr. Kaslow’s sentiments and said public commenters are pointing to the need for a committee.
“I think everybody wants to move forward from this,” Mr. Conroy said.