COEUR d'ALENE - The Coeur d'Alene School District's Board of Trustees received a 20-page document Thursday that alleges the board members violated their own policies and state laws when they decided last fall to ax the Primary Years Programme (PYP) at Hayden Meadows Elementary School.
The complaint, addressed to the school board from citizens of Hayden and Coeur d'Alene, accuses the five-member board of discrimination, fiscal irresponsibility, decision-making based on personal bias, abuse of power, and of violating the state's open meeting law.
"Our intentions are not to be divisive, but to focus on facts and hold them accountable for unethical actions," stated Ashlie Unruh, in a message to The Press.
Unruh, the parent of children attending Hayden Meadows, helped prepare the written complaint.
"We hope that this grievance will allow everyone to focus on the facts and not the emotions or controversy," Unruh wrote. "We are not so upset about the fact that they removed PYP, it is the manner in which they made their decisions and that their reasoning for discontinuing the program is not in line with policy. That is what is so disturbing."
PYP, an elementary school program offered through the International Baccalaureate Organization, and the IB's high school program that the board eliminated from the district last summer, were at the center of public controversy in Coeur d'Alene for several years prior to this board's decision to remove them.
Opponents claim IB programs promote a political, philosophical agenda. They take issue with the organization's connections to the United Nations and UNESCO, and say it is contrary to the idea of "American exceptionalism."
Passionate supporters, including many parents and educators, embrace the program's inquiry-based learning structure and the positive results they see in their children.
When the board members made the decision in October to remove PYP from Hayden Meadows, they heard from parents and community members on both sides of the issue. At that board meeting, some trustees read prepared statements detailing their opposition to the program.
The citizens' complaint calls for the reinstatement of PYP at Hayden Meadows and for an investigation of the decision-making process used by the board to eliminate the IB Diploma Programme at Lake City High School.
It asks for a neutral third party to review the allegations to determine their validity, and also asks for a detailed, written board response to each of the accusations.
The grievance includes a detailed list of each accusation along with specific examples and an analysis of each.
The group's charge of fiscal irresponsibility stems from the board's decision to pull PYP, although it was nearly fully funded by fundraisers and grants rather than tax dollars.
Regarding the allegation that the board violated the state's open meeting law, the group points to a September email exchange between board members in which they discussed and criticized a Press guest column written by a Hayden Meadows teacher in favor of PYP. Under Idaho's open meeting law, members of government boards or councils are prohibited from deliberating outside public view about items that are pending board action.
Copies of the emails, received by The Press through a public information request, show email conversations between trustees about PYP did take place in September.
"Public education's responsibility is not to indoctrinate youngsters in a world philosophy in the manner which causes PYP to be controversial across the country," wrote Jim Purtee in a Sept. 11 email to board chair Tom Hamilton. The message was also forwarded to Ann Seddon.
Another email thread about PYP ended when Hamilton wrote, on Sept. 27 to Purtee, Superintendent Hazel Bauman, and trustees Terri Seymour and Seddon: "This email is leaning towards a deliberation that should happen publicly in open session. Please save the discussion for Monday."
Laura Rumpler, the school district's communications director, said it is the school board's role to "make tough policy and program decisions that set the direction of our public school system.
"At times, the school board is applauded for those decisions and at times they are criticized for those decisions," Rumpler said. "The school board reviews all public input as they work to represent the wide-ranging interests of the district's many constituents."
Hamilton told The Press on Thursday that the board will treat the complaint the same way they handle all comments received from the public, and will respond if necessary.
"I can't speak for the board on the subject except to say that we are aware of it, and we're going to take some time to review and digest it," Hamilton said.
The document can be read online and is supported by an online petition that had more than 150 signatures on it Thursday evening.
The complaint indicates copies of it are being delivered to the Idaho Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Education Institute, the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, the Idaho Department of Education, the state board of education, the state attorney general's office, the Kootenai County prosecutor and Norm Gissell, J.D.
Unruh told The Press the group is not filing a formal complaint with any of those agencies at this time
"Mostly, we are seeking feedback and looking for potential neutral third-party intervention if necessary. We are not pursuing any kind of litigation at this time, and hope to resolve this matter without attorneys," Unruh said.
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