Shawnee Mission school board of education, led by President Heather Ousley, made several attempts to stifle speech at the May 17 board meeting. YouTube took down the meeting video citing ‘medical misinformation’ and a violation of community standards; the video was since restored after the public comments were removed. I was the target of one of Ousley’s attempts to stifle speech (as was State Senator Mike Thompson) and it’s my opinion that the district’s narrative in the Kansas City Star is very misleading.
The Star quoted Ousley saying, “An individual indicated incorrectly that it wasn’t contagious and that masks cause cancer. Also someone threw a gas mask and someone else referenced the blood of Christ.” But that’s not what I observed.
State Senator Mike Thompson spoke on behalf of constituents who say masks do more harm than good and gave several examples of masks being ineffective. He also referenced a report from the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) that says Health Canada issued a recall for SNN200642 made in China because the grey and blue surgical masks contain microscopic graphene, an asbestos-like substance that may be highly carcinogenic. Other research shows that graphene can cause lung damage.
One agitated parent asked why the district wouldn’t allow a gas mask to be worn instead of a paper mask, since one is much more effective than the other. He was agitated and waved the mask for effect, but it’s a stretch to say he was throwing it around.
Several parents spoke about masks providing little protection while causing significant medical and educational consequences for their children. There were comments about children not being major COVID spreaders and that there is little risk of exposure, but if one of them said COVID wasn’t contagious, I missed it. It would be wrong to say COVID isn’t contagious, but it is also wrong for the district to consistently put more emphasis on money and their COVID actions than what should be their #1 priority – taking action to improve persistently low student achievement.
They never tell parents that about a third of high school students are below grade level, another third at grade level but still need remedial training, and only a third are on track for college and career.
Attempts to restrict who can speak
Thompson initially was told he wasn’t allowed to speak. The district limits the number of speakers and the list was full when he attempted to register. A parent surrendered her time to Thompson but Ousley initially told him the board doesn’t allow that. He eventually convinced the board to allow him to talk.
Ousley also told the last two speakers on her list to come back next week because the board was out of time. I objected because I had signed up six days prior and received an email confirming that I was on the agenda; signing up that far in advance makes it highly unlikely that I was the next to last person to register. Finally, after a parent in the audience asked why the board couldn’t spare six minutes to hear from the last two speakers, Ousley relented.
The last speaker was a little boy who did a great job explaining how being forced to wear a mask was interfering with his education and overall wellbeing. His mother said it was all his idea to address the board and he wrote his speech by himself.
It’s a shame that the board ignored him and all the parents who said the consequences of being forced to wear a mask far outweighed any perceived benefit.
I don’t recall any objections being raised about the public comments by Ousley, any other board member, or district officials, by the way.
Stifling the public is part of a pattern
This episode is part of a dangerous pattern with public school boards that goes back years.
The Blue Valley school board recently moved an in-person board meeting to virtual, allegedly after seeing some threats on social media. The district provided nothing to substantiate the claim and the large number of parents who signed up to speak against the board’s COVID restrictions saw nothing either.
In 2017, Wichita school board member Betty Arnold declared that parents on district advisory panels shouldn’t be allowed to speak at those meetings, according to the Wichita Eagle.
In an e-mail to Eakins in March 2016, Arnold directed Eakins to tell two women who had been invited to participate in a student wellness committee “that the only role they can serve would be as observers.”
“Their attendance does not offer any special privileges such as actively being a part of the discussion and/or direction,” Arnold wrote in the e-mail, which Eakins shared with The Eagle. “Meetings are open but input from anyone other than committee members is not permitted.”
When Arnold served as board president in 2012, she admonished parents who wanted to discuss some issues with the board.
“This board meeting is held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public.
Parents all across Kansas and especially in Johnson County have been treated like that, and it must stop.