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Policy set to remove anti-racism resolution after vote by Board of Education

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Mr. Matthew Schott
A photo of Francis Howell Central High School.

“We hear you, we are listening, and we are learning.”

This was the stance the Francis Howell Board of Education took in August 2020 to “confront racism.”

However, by a 5-2 majority, the 2023 Board voted to implement the new Policy 0299 on Thursday, July 20 during the Board meeting in a room filled to limited standing room with the district community. Some people in the room could be heard declaring “Shame on you,” and a large number could be seen holding up signs reading “Forward, not Backward,” as the new policy is set to rescind the anti-racism resolution.

Policy 0299, proposed by Vice President Randy Cook on June 15, declares to sunset, or rescind, prior resolutions 75 calendar days after the majority of Board members were not signatories to the resolution, as if the resolution was never there in the first place. The district community is outraged because of how the policy will rescind the anti-racism resolution as stated by the 2020 Board of Education, “We hear you, we are listening, and we are learning.”

Directors Chad Lange and Janet Stiglich voted against Policy 0299. 

President Adam Bertrand, Vice President Cook, Treasurer Jane Puszkar, and Directors Ron Harmon and Mark Ponder voted for Policy 0299.

In reasoning for voting for Policy 0299 and therefore rescinding the anti-racism resolution Treasurer Puszkar said for the board members to provide proof of what impact the resolution has made.

“If they can provide me with any detail or proof, that this resolution has done anything?

How effective has it really been? We’ve had this resolution on the books for over three years… it’s still there and it’s actually done nothing,” Treasurer Puszkar said.

Missouri Equity Education Partnership Founder and Director and a parent in the district Ms. Heather Fleming held a small press conference after leaving in the middle of the board meeting after the vote on Policy 0299.

“The first step is to continue to keep them accountable. When they sling an arrow at one of us, you should feel it too. We need volunteers. We need your help. We need your voices. This work is not easy; you’re not in this to be light,” Ms. Fleming said. “Sign up on Facebook, Francis Howell Forward. It’ll be difficult work, but as long as you’re doing the work authentically, you’re gonna feel some of the things that I feel.”

After the Board’s decision, on Friday, July 21, Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Roumpos said through an email he sent out to the district he knows people are hurting and frustrated.

“Please know that incidents of discrimination, racial or otherwise, will not be tolerated,” Dr. Roumpos said. “Francis Howell has much to be proud of, and our ability to come together and embrace challenges as a community should be one of those strengths.”

Director Stiglich proposed working together as a board to agree on the anti-racism resolution. Director Ponder also said to do this. However, after 75 calendar days, any resolutions not discussed further will disappear, as enforced by the new Policy 0299.

“If your concern is the wording of the resolution then let’s get together and come up with a solution that we can all agree with. That’s what elected people do. We expect our students to problem solve, why can’t we as a board do the same thing?” Director Stiglich said. “This was not a resolution that seven people came together and wrote in 10 minutes, it was a resolution that took weeks.”

Director Lange posted on Facebook his view of the policy five days before the meeting, on July 15. In both his post and during the meeting, Director Lange said he received no response for an email sent on June 15 to President Bertrand and Vice President Cook following up what he discussed in the June 15 Board meeting regarding changing Policy 0299 so each resolution is required to be discussed before being sunsetted.

“I take that as not having any interest in working together on this policy. I then received an email [on Wed., July 19] from President Bertrand reminding the board of our code of ethics. I just want to say publicly that the code of ethics goes both ways. I would appreciate to be acknowledged,” Director Lange said.

The anti-racism resolution was implemented by the Board in 2020 in response to how FHSD students led a Black Lives Matter protest prompted by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed by police in Minneapolis, and of other victims of police brutality at the height of many BLM protests led by different groups and organizations across the nation.

“The FHSD Board of Education hereby declares that racism is a crisis that negatively impacts our students, our families, our community, and our staff; the Board hereby declares its commitment to establishing, supporting, and sustaining a culture of anti-racism districtwide,” reads the 2020 FHSD anti-racism resolution.

A parent in the district, Jennifer Clark, read a statement during the meeting written by her 15-year-old daughter, a sophomore this coming fall.

“’I believe it is so contradictory and spineless that I was pulled out of class to participate in a focus group at the end of the school year to address issues with racism that had come up during the school year just for the District Board to go back on this,’” Clark said. “’You want to say that this resolution is somehow offensive? You know what is offensive? Having to witness your classmates act out slavery pretending they’re being whipped by their Master because it’s funny. Removing this resolution because a handful of people couldn’t handle wrongdoings being acknowledged does a complete disservice to the safety and integrity of our schools.’”

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