In a recent heated meeting of the Westwood School Board, debates underscored existing tensions and disparate viewpoints among board members, educators, and community members. The meeting revolved around scrutiny the board faces from the Westwood Education Association (WEA), the introduction of a contentious parental rights policy, and deliberations over alterations to the fifth-grade health curriculum.
In response to criticism from the WEA, the president of the school board remarked on the strained relationship between the board and the union. He dismissed several claims made by the WEA president, Mr. Pinto, criticizing the union’s stance of being exclusively present for the students’ best interests. He asserted that the WEA is pursuing benefits substantially exceeding county and state averages. “You showed your true colors without me having to say a word,” he retorted, linking the WEA’s stance to ongoing contract negotiations.
Discussions around a parental rights policy also revealed disagreements among board members concerning parental rights, LGBTQ+ issues, and educators’ roles.
Jason Garcia, a board member, extensively addressed his worries about what he perceived as a vague and misleading interpretation of “parental rights,” interpreting it as a “weaponized political campaign slogan” responsible for causing misunderstanding and division. He expressed dismay over the board’s conduct, accusing certain members of instigating unease among parents and posing as protectors against imagined threats from educators. “Some trustees have convinced our community it needs them to step in and save it. But they won’t say from what,” he emphasized.
Andrea Peck probed into existing parental rights, instigating a debate with fellow board members, including Laura Cooper. The deliberations also explored the extent to which teachers should discuss sensitive topics with students openly.
Mrs. Peck contended that the “issue policy” hinders open discussions and underlined the necessity of placing trust in educators. “We have to trust our teachers and our educators… They are not trying to indoctrinate our students,” she stated. Conversely, other members underscored the supreme importance of parental rights, insisting parents should be informed of every development impacting their children, reflecting a belief in a definition of trust exceeding professional limits.
Theodora Patuska, a veteran teacher, voiced her dissatisfaction with the lack of acknowledgment and respect for teachers.
Significant discourse also revolved around incorporating two new state standards into the fifth-grade curriculum, clarifying the link between sexual intercourse and human reproduction. Several board members, including Cooper and Garcia, questioned the appropriateness of introducing such topics at this educational level. The majority ruled against the incorporation of these specific standards, referring the issue back to Superintendent Jill Mortimer for more detailed conversations with the curriculum committee.
Multiple residents communicated their concerns to the board regarding policy communication, administrators’ proficiency, and LGBTQ+ students’ welfare. Andrea Gerstmeyer scrutinized the policy decision-making process and debated if teachers should report LGBTQ+ students who fear repercussions from their families.
A student, Amera Geipel, who identifies as trans, relayed their personal experiences, highlighting the fears LGBTQ+ students encounter. They urged the board, “I want you to understand that it is scary, and there are kids who attempt suicide because of this… I want you to think about that when you are endorsing these policies and putting them into action.”