COUDERSPORT -- Members of the Potter County chapter “Free PA” attended Monday’s Coudersport school board meeting with questions ranging from vaccinations to field trips and concerns about dress codes and protests.
Lillian Cowburn, of Allegany Township, requested the board work sessions structure be changed so the public has the opportunity to comment and ask questions after the the board has discussed items. During business meetings, the agenda allows for comments on agenda items before the board votes on anything and for general comments after the voting section. Work session agendas don’t have the latter, but voting also doesn’t take place during a work session.
“I wish that we could have, as citizens, also had some time, even if it was … at the end of the meeting, to have asked some of our questions, because you never know, some of our questions may be good questions that maybe somebody hasn’t thought of. So it was a little frustrating sitting there, writing down some questions, and we were unable to put forth any of our own concerns,” Lillian Cowburn said.
She also voiced concerns over a board approved field trip for students in grades 10-12 to Asia in 2022.
“I think that’s pretty extreme considering, first of all, how unpredictable the world is right now, and the governments around us, especially overseas, and considering any kind of other COVID factors or other viruses or issues over that way,” she said. She also questioned who was funding it.
When reached for comment, Superintendent Drew Kyle confirmed this field trip would not be in the budget, but rather the students who wish to go will fundraise for it. He said the district would not put the students in danger or in a position to endanger other students; the trip would not occur if there were any concerns of such.
Dan Cowburn, also of Allegany, said he heard what he hoped to be rumors about Black Lives Matters posters in the school.
“We don’t need this racial stuff going on in school. They’re here to learn, not to become racial profiling and police haters, whatever,” Dan Cowburn said.
With that, he said he heard there is a group of students who protest the pledge of allegiance every morning.
“I, for one, think they should be expelled from school or done something. Apparently this is a daily occurance. I’m just asking if this is a daily occurrence and if so, it needs to stop,” he said.
Kyle told the Potter Leader-Enterprise that in response to some student concerns, High School Principal Steve Mongillo implemented a diversity group, which Kyle supported, that included minority students and some members of the student council. The group met several times and noted that a previous “Dating Violence Awareness Campaign” was successful, in which students created posters and other materials to raise awareness of dating violence.
The students then created posters, which were approved by the principal, to promote awareness from this group of students, Kyle said.
“(It is) not in support of Black Lives Matter but to promote awareness about racial issues,” he said.
As for the protesting of the pledge, Kyle said the comments were misrepresented but people are entitled to their first amendment rights to free speech.
“We take steps to allow students who may want to protest to do so appropriately,” Kyle said. He said though he might disagree with it, he fully supports their right to protest. Students who do would not be expelled either, he said.
Georgeanna DeCarlo, of Coudersport, said she pulled her fourth graders from CASD this year because they would have had to wear a face mask, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She urged the district to investigate and research vaccines and face masks before making decisions regarding them for next year.
“The decision not to vaccinate is not based in ridiculousness and we need to respect each other whether we choose to vaccinate or not, whether we choose to wear a mask or not. This is what our children are learning; that is part of the reason I didn’t send my kids to school this last year, we homeschooled,” DeCarlo said.
Harold Anderson, of Pike Township, wanted to make a public comment, but the board’s policy allows it to only hear from residents or taxpayers of this district, anyone representing a group in the community or school district, any representative of a firm eligible to bid on materials or services solicited by the Board, any district employee or any district student. Harold Anderson did not fall under any of those caveats. He said he would bring his attorney with him to the next meeting, as he was exercising his first amendment rights.
Courtney Anderson, employee of CASD, said said
“Working in the cafeteria, I get to see all students every single day. And my thing is dress code. When these young ladies, and we have a lot of beautiful ladies and young girls are built just like women anymore, and when their cleavage is hanging out so far that if they bend over and talk to the teacher, their tater tots are going to fall out,” Courtney Anderson said.
She said she was concerned about “boys with crazy thoughts going on in their head.” She said she asked a male teacher how they approach the situation and she said they said they don’t because they are afraid of being charged with sexual harassment.
“I think that that’s wrong, that they don’t feel safe enough to say, ‘listen, you’re a distraction or its inappropriate, you should go change your clothes,’” she said.
Kyle told the Potter Leader-Enterprise that he and the board welcomes public comments and questions at the board meetings. The board also has a public complaint procedure, policy 906, he said.
“While people are welcome as taxpayers and residents to come to meetings and make comments,” if they have complaints or questions they can follow the public complaint procedure,” he said. That can be viewed at https://go.boarddocs.com/pa/coud/Board.nsf/Public#.
He plans to address questions and comments that have been made during recent meetings at the next board meeting, 6 p.m. Monday, June 14 in the high school LGI room.