Board weighs in on teacher tenure, sexual orientation

By Bethany Knipp

USD 383 Board of Education members voiced their opinions about the tenure portion of the state legislature’s school finance bill Wednesday.

The board also voted to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its nondiscrimination policy.

No member spoke in favor of House Bill 2506, which included taking away due process rights for teachers.

Member Dave Colburn said he wanted the debate about tenure to be transparent. Legislators have received criticism for tacking on the tenure portion of the school finance bill shortly before it was passed. 

“If they want to take on things like due process and some of the stuff they’ve done with the courts, do it out in the open. Have an honest debate,” Colburn said. “Don’t run it through at 2 in the morning backed onto some other bill. That’s not democracy,” he said.

Colburn also said he saw the potential stripping of tenure as a way to weaken teachers unions and privatize education.

“We’re in a situation where – they don’t say it – but there’s large percentage of legislators who are opposed to public schools in general. They want it privatized,” Colburn said.

Board member Aaron Estabrook agreed with Colburn.

“I really wish, if they really did believe in local control, they’d let local school boards handle that due process policy,” he said.

Board president Curt Herrman also spoke up about the issue, saying he found the situation disappointing.

Meanwhile, the board also passed a measure in a 4-2 vote that would include sexual orientation and gender identity in the nondiscrimination policy contained in student and employee handbooks.

The proposal was initiated by vice president Leah Fliter and supported by Herrman and Superintendent Bob Shannon.

Chair of the Flint Hills Human Rights Project Mike Herman spoke in support of the new policy proposal.

“I think it fits well with the anti-bullying policy that has been pushed by the district in the last few years,” said Herman, who has had children in the district.

“It won’t prevent all discrimination, but what it will do is help students and staff feel safe at work or at school – and it will let them know that the district respects them and has their back,” he said.

He said it would also give them recourse for discrimination.

Sue Gerth, a board member of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project and mother of a transgender daughter, urged the school board to include gender identity in the policy — citing suicide and bullying statistics.

“This about the physical and mental safety and wellbeing of an extremely vulnerable population,” said Gerth, whose adult children went to USD 383.

School board member Darell Edie did not support the measure, saying that people in Manhattan voted against it in an election three years ago and that attorneys for the district have advised against it.

Opponents suggest the policy could potentially open the district up to discrimination lawsuits.

Member Marcia Rozell also opposed the measure saying, “I would like to just say, ‘Let’s not discriminate,’ period, and not have to list it all out.  I’m going to side with what we are mandated to put in it.”

Member Aaron Estabrook supported the measure and Colburn said he did after much thought.

“It is my judgment that it is my job to protect these kids,” he said.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the school board unanimously passed a motion to adopt some new textbooks, purchase playground equipment for Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School and replace the handrail at Bishop Stadium.

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