By Crystal Hayduk
The Chelsea Education Foundation (CEF) will allow three separate grant cycles for the Chelsea School District this school year.
Lynn Fox, CEF board president, made the announcement at the virtual Chelsea School District (CSD) Board of Education meeting on Sept. 14.
“We realize as the school year progresses there will be changes in what the teachers need [during the pandemic], so we decided to let the teachers have several opportunities for funding,” said Fox.
CEF’s annual fundraiser for 2020, scheduled for March 16, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fox said through the combination of generous donors and good investments, CEF has $30,000 available for grants this year.
Superintendent Julie Helber thanked the CEF for their support. “They are doing such a good job of maintaining a presence and pushing forward through this trying time,” she said.
New Hires Approved
The board unanimously approved the hiring of six new teachers, all of whom received glowing recommendations from their references.
At North Creek Elementary School, three teachers were hired to cover increased sectional needs and leaves of absence. Lauren Miller, a graduate of Central Michigan University (CMU), was a long-term substitute in the building last year who exhibited a positive work drive and academic support. Nicole Collins is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and Gina Horsburgh earned her degree from Hope College.
Ashely Driscoll will replace Jordan Miller at South Meadows Elementary School. She received her undergraduate education from CMU and a master’s degree in educational psychology from EMU. Karyssa Witzig, a graduate of CMU, will replace Jeanne Caselli.
Jason Rickli will replace Melissa McIntosh at Chelsea High School (CHS). McIntosh transferred to Beach Middle School following Zac Snively’s resignation. Rickli earned a math degree from the University of Michigan-Flint, and a master’s in education from Western Governors University.
Social Media Policies and Public Input
During the opportunity for board member reports, Kristin van Reesema went over aspects of the board’s policy about social media, which she recommended all board members review. She cited policies to refrain from using social media to conduct board business; to clearly state that one’s personal views are not necessarily those of the school district; to refrain from threats, defamation, profanity, untruths, and expressions that negatively impact the health and safety of students.
During the opportunity for public input, 11 individuals addressed the board about the problems of harassment, bullying, and racism.
Theresa Plank said board member Tammy Lehman threatened legal action against community members for sharing opinions about Lehman’s social media activity. “Imagine what lessons they are communicating when elected officials treat other adults this way,” she said.
Kate Astrakhan said she is concerned about cancel culture, defined as a form of social bullying; the phenomenon of canceling someone (public shaming, sabotaging employment, leveling threats) who espouses a position that an individual or group disagrees with. Several other community members shared Astrakhan’s belief that cancel culture should not be happening to a school board member.
Two teens spoke about personal experiences. A high school junior, who left the district to escape bullying that began in sixth grade, said her reports were not believed due to lack of evidence; and a high school freshman said Beach Middle School’s Gay Straight Alliance group was “a way for people to target the members.”
Four adults spoke about their own children or children they know being bullied. Michelle Germann spoke in defense of Lehman, who was helpful to her when her child was being bullied at school.
Annette Kennedy said there is a need for all groups to be represented because not all people are of one mindset. She said conservatives are discriminated against because of their conservative values.
Katie Moore, a senior at CHS called free speech a paradox. “You can say what you want as long as it doesn’t affect someone’s civil liberties,” she said.
Following public input, board member Jason Eyster said both sides of many issues had been heard. Speaking as an individual, he believes that it is not warranted to threaten legal action against someone for making a clear political statement. “I assume it was done because of fear and worry, and I hope it will not be done again,” he said.
Board President Shawn Quilter acknowledged the concerns of community members about Lehman’s cease and desist letters and social media posts as legitimate. He also acknowledged Lehman’s right to free speech, that individual communications by board members should not be construed as the opinions or policies of the board, and that he does not agree with Lehman on some issues. “There is ample evidence of our ongoing commitment to eradicate racism and bullying,” said Quilter. “We have work to do. We are taking steps. This is an opportunity to do more listening.”
Lehman addressed the board: “The cease and desist order was sent with advice of legal counsel and the Chelsea Police Department to stop the defamation of character and slanderous attacks against my business, myself, and my family. It had nothing to do with my board position. I have never made any type of stance in relation to the board with the cease and desist and I want to make sure the board members understood because it’s not board business. It was done with the advice of counsel. Thank you for your time and I apologize for taking all this time on this matter.”
Helber said these events demonstrate what social media can do in a community, as well as what it does to students every day. “If there’s something you want us to know, please reach out to us directly,” she said. “We do this work because we love kids. We want to make a difference. We want to see all kids thrive. We want to hear it directly through you—not through social media where it can be misconstrued and misunderstood…. First and foremost, attention needs to be paid to our students. … We want to hear from you in productive, civil discourse.”
Board member van Reesema said she is distressed that students left the district after not being heard. She is hopeful that the work that’s begun can continue. “Maybe this is an opportunity while the kids are still out to address some of these issues before they get back into the classroom,” she said.
In other board news:
Helber reviewed the district’s Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan with the board, a requirement prior to submitting it to the intermediate school district. The plan, which includes educational goals and benchmark assessment plans, will be updated every 30 days; guidelines are determined in conjunction with county and state health data. The learning plan also includes how the district is managing equitable access, as well as meeting needs for vulnerable students and continuing access for other programs such as early childhood, dual enrollment, and AP classes. The plan will be available on the district’s website no later than Oct. 1.
Helber reported a “rough student count,” although the official count is expected to be held on Oct. 7. The total number of 2,342 is 89 fewer students than last year’s fall count of 2,431. Michelle Cowhy, assistant superintendent of finance and administrative services, based the preliminary 2020-21 budget on a student count loss of 50.
There will be a virtual school board work session at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 28.
The next regular board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, location to be determined.