After 40-minute recess, Carmel school board meeting continues amid ongoing audience disruptions

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The Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees recessed its Sept. 27 meeting for more than 40 minutes after members of the audience began speaking over board members during discussion of the consent agenda.

Once board members returned to the dais, they quickly voted on action items on the agenda, including a two-year teacher contract, as members of the audience continued to speak over them. They bypassed scheduled discussions of a transfer to the rainy day fund, 2022-23 program of studies course changes and monthly reports. None of the items skipped were scheduled for a vote at the meeting.

During the recess, several members of the audience — many affiliated with Unify Carmel — continued speaking about various topics, including a perceived lack of transparency, declining test scores, mask mandates, the suspension of the public comment portion of school board meetings and other topics. Unify Carmel is a group of parents and community members concerned about recent CCS diversity efforts and other non-academic initiatives they believe are negatively affecting academic performance.

The meeting did not contain a designated opportunity for general public comment, which has been suspended since last month.

CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said after the meeting that board members felt it was important to continue through the agenda, however chaotic, to vote on a new two-year contract for teachers and to approve other financial matters.

“It’s just extremely sad that a group of adults would behave in this kind of manner. We had student journalists in the back of the room videotaping adults behaving in a way we would  never allow in school,” he said. “One of the policies on the docket today was (regarding) civility and decorum. Boy, did we ever prove that we need that policy.”

The policy — quickly approved without board discussion as audience members continued to speak over the board — aims to promote mutual respect, civility and decorum at all CCS facilities and events. It defines disruptive and uncivil behavior and outlines how offenses will be handled.

The board voted in the same manner to update its bylaws regarding public comment at school board meetings. CCS has suspended public comment at school board meetings since August in response to what school officials described as disruptions, verbal attacks, intimidation and inappropriate behavior at previous board meetings.

With the new bylaw in place, Beresford said after the meeting that CCS had been planning to reinstate time for public comment at school board meetings but that the district will now need to reevaluate those plans.

Beresford said he welcomes parents or Carmel residents with concerns to set up an appointment to discuss them with district officials rather than interrupt a public school board meeting.

“I know our people in this community can do better than that. We’re not hard to find. Our doors are open,” Beresford said. “The people in this room aren’t asking for appointments to discuss their concerns. It looks more like an orchestrated performance.”

During the meeting, the board held four public hearings as required by law regarding the teacher contract, 2022 budget, bus replacement plan and capital projects plan. A handful of members of the audience spoke during the public hearing, echoing similar points and topics they had previously made during the recess.

Carmel resident Vickie Bogner spoke during the public hearing regarding the teacher contract. She said she believes that Carmel teachers are not able to perform as well as they could because they are required to spend time focusing on social emotional learning and diversity initiatives.

“You are taking away valuable academic teaching time out of the school day from our students,” Bognar said. “They are not academically excellent any longer. They are not going to get into the top colleges. They are not going to be successful, because they are not well educated.”

Carmel resident Mike Smith raised issues with the district’s bus replacement plan.

“We didn’t have enough bus drivers to drive the buses we have this year, and with declining enrollment, do we really need to replace so many buses if they’re not being used anyway?” he said.

The next Carmel school board meeting is a workshop session set for 7 p.m. Oct. 12. The next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 25.


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