Bringing Our Community Together

Bringing Our Community Together
Posted on 05/18/2017

The community forum that was held at Menomonie High School last week was a wonderful opportunity for parents, community members, and other school stakeholders to share thoughts related to our schools.  Many comments were made related to teaching religion in our schools, and some participants expanded the discussion to include their thoughts about diversity, multiculturalism, and racism.  While there was an abundance of passion for these very important issues, and while some very distinct differences of opinions were shared, everyone appeared to have the best intentions in wanting our schools to be successful and for our community to be a great place for everyone to live, work, and raise our children.

Prior to opening the floor for community comments, the forum also provided the school district the opportunity to review the situation that precipitated the forum, as well as to remind attendees of the district’s action plan moving forward.  While much of this information was already covered in a previous School Crossings column- which is still available on my blog hosted on the school district website- there still seemed to be confusion on some of the key issues.

  • The complaints heard by the Board were not about the book I Am Malala, or whether or not we should be teaching about diversity in our schools.  The complaints were centered on whether or not religion should be taught in school, and whether or not an outside speaker was allowed to violate the Establishment Clause by endorsing a particular religion.  As previously noted, the Board determined that the school district did not break the law. 
  • Improving the opt-out procedures used in our school district does not mean that students will be able to opt-out of more lessons.  The intention of improving the opt-out procedure is to make the process more consistent, and to better communicate to parents and students how a request for an alternative learning activity can be made.  While the school district is mandated to allow students to opt-out of a few very specific learning activities, it is also not that uncommon for a teacher to grant a parent’s or student’s request for an alternative assignment if a justified request for a reasonable accommodation is made.  Even with the Islamic speaker lesson that received so much recent attention, the teachers had voluntarily allowed two students to opt-out of that activity. 
  • The intention for reviewing curriculum is to ensure that the curriculum being taught in our schools is aligned to standards and balanced in a way that does not endorse any particular religion.  The district also plans to make curriculum more accessible in order to make it easier for parents and other school stakeholders to keep informed about what is being taught in our schools. 
  • The Board’s plan to review the policy for teaching controversial issues mostly stems from the fact that the policy has not been revised since 2002, and the emphasis that the Board places on providing clear expectations and direction for school administration, teachers, and staff.  The policy to be reviewed not only defines what might make an issue controversial, but it also identifies the importance of academic freedom.  The teaching about controversial issues policy directs educators to present topics in an objective, well-informed manner, and it also sets out clear guidelines for handling controversial issues.

During the community forum, a few participants made comments implying that privileged treatment was provided for the parents who met with the Board in closed session.  It should be noted that with both complaints, the parents followed all of the steps in the Board’s formal complaint policy, which details the procedure that is available to all school stakeholders.  While most concerns in the school district are able to be addressed informally, or at the building or district levels, Board Policy 870 affords “all citizens of the district the right to petition the Board for redress of a complaint or concern”. Due to the nature of these specific complaints, and the need for the Board to protect the reputations of the staff involved in the Board’s investigation of the situation, the agenda item was properly noticed and formal action was taken by the Board to hear the complaints in closed session.

A final misconception related to this situation that has also been brought up over the past few weeks has to do with teachers and administrators being disciplined or having their contracts terminated or non-renewed at the end of the school year for hosting the speaker.  While this entire situation has helped the school district identify some areas in which we can improve, the middle school teachers and administrators not only received a round of applause at the community forum on Monday, but each of them has most certainly been offered a contract for the 2017-2018 school year. 

Sensitive, controversial, and in some cases political issues, can sometime divide an organization or community.  While there is much passion on all sides of various issues, it seems obvious to me that our community stands together with parents, staff, community members, students, and the school board in the Menomonie Area all supporting the district’s mission of preparing ALL students to become lifelong learners, caring individuals, and responsible citizens.  Thank you to those who participated in last week’s community forum, and thank you to our entire community for your direct or indirect support of the School District of the Menomonie Area.

Should school families or community stakeholders have any questions or concerns about the recent community forum, or anything else in our school district, I invite you to visit me at the Administrative Service Center on Pine Avenue, or contact me at 715-232-1642. More information about our schools can be found on the school district website (, and I regularly post school-related information on Twitter ( and Facebook (