While watching the Blue Valley school board’s April 8 meeting to rule on parents’ requests for COVID mask accommodations for their children, I was reminded of an old Seinfeld episode. The owner of a soup bar demanded strict behavior from customers at his soup bar, and anyone who didn’t follow his rules was harshly told, “No soup for you!”
A Blue Valley mom and the grandparent of a student in USD 229 had their requests for medical accommodations contemptuously and dismissively rejected, effectively telling them ‘no accommodations for you!’
Board members portrayed their action as an all-or-nothing decision on the mask policy for every student, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Hearing Officer Roger Warren told the board, “My understanding, honestly, what (the parent) ultimately asked for appears to be more of an accommodation for her children for medical reasons than a general request to have the mask mandate lifted.”
Shortly later, Warren said, “I really interpreted her comments to being with regard to her two kids and their various medical issues, and that those medical issues seemed to be causing problems.”
Board members wouldn’t even consider the request for accommodations from the parent and a grandparent who made a similar case, even though Warren recommended that they do so.
“It would be wise to try to seek accommodation with both of these folks if possible within your guidelines.”
School districts routinely make accommodations for students for a variety of reasons, but the board summarily dismissed their requests, effectively saying, “No accommodations for you!”
At no time did this board exhibit a whit of interest in what parents and students need.
No soup for you!
Throughout the process, board members showed they are elites who cannot be bothered with facts or the educational and medical needs of their subjects.
Every school board has full authority to set, modify, or disband their guidelines, and that should include amending guidelines to make medical accommodations if they forgot to do so last August. But district General Counsel Melissa Hillman said her reading of the new emergency management changes enacted in Senate Bill 40 was that granting relief in an SB 40 hearing would be policy-wide, so the impact of their decision would be district-wide.
Handed the loophole they were probably seeking, the board declared, ‘no soup for you!”
Their discussion wholly focused on whether the entire mask mandate should be lifted, which the hearing officer made clear was not requested by either grievant. The pleadings of the board’s royal subjects were brushed aside, and their dismissive attitude was present throughout their entire handling of the grievance process.
“the board of education shall conduct a hearing…”
SB 40 gives “an employee, a student or the parent or guardian of a student aggrieved” by actions, policies, or orders of the district the right to a hearing. It specifically says, “upon receipt of a request…the board of education shall conduct a hearing with 72 hours….”
It does not say the board should spend taxpayer money to hire a hearing officer so they don’t have to face parents, students, or employees. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt tells the Sentinel that the text of SB 40 clearly puts the obligation on school board members themselves.
“The plain text of Senate Bill 40 appears to say persons aggrieved by a local school district’s COVID policy are entitled to a hearing before the locally elected school board itself.”
Even if the board didn’t violate the letter of the law, they certainly appear to be violating the clear spirit, declaring, ‘no audience for you!”
No privacy for you!
Another parent’s due process rights were denied when a request to have a closed meeting with the board to discuss sensitive information about their child was refused.
Section 1 of SB 40 says hearings “… shall be open to the public in accordance with the open meetings act, K.S.A. 75-4317 et seq.” The reference to the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) is important because while SB 40 grievance hearings are to be held in public, KOMA allows meetings to be closed to the public and kept confidential in certain circumstances. Fifteen circumstances in the law allow for closed sessions, including personnel matters, preliminary discussions relating to the acquisition of real property, and “matters relating to actions adversely or favorably affecting a person as a student, patient or resident of a public institution.”
A parent reading this could reasonably believe the school board would gladly accommodate a request to discuss a confidential matter involving a student in a closed setting. But the Blue Valley school district said, ‘no privacy for you!”
The parent was told closed hearings are permitted under KOMA but not required, and they denied the request.
No accommodation for you!
Given the district’s cavalier handling of the entire process, it was no surprise that the board denied both requests for accommodations.
Their attitude is also symptomatic of why Kansas has dismal student achievement. The Blue Valley board doesn’t want you to know this, but the State Department of Education says 21% of all Blue Valley 10th-graders are below grade level in Math and English language arts and less than half are on track for college and career.
Until this board’s contemptuous, dismissive attitude changes, a lot of students in Blue Valley will continue to be left behind.