The second video in our school board candidate series answers a question voted on by our community Facebook group. The question is "What is your experience or training related to educational standards for success, both academically and social/emotionally in regards to students?"
All candidates were contacted to participate in our video series. Appearance in this video does not imply an endorsement on the candidates.
The views and opinions expressed in this video are those of the speaker's and do not reflect the views or positions of AdvocateFHSD.org.
Erosion doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, though, the little things accumulate and wear us down. The first storm began for our district in 2021, could have been a blip. When three candidates for Forest Hills school board rejected the offer in 2023 to appear in front of voters at the nonpartisan Meet the Candidates event –– we were taken aback, and sat to consider the impact of erosion of trust & normal candidate & elected official's behaviors & the risk to FHSD.
In a local podcast recorded in May of 2021, Mr. Bibb offered hope to champions of transparency and sunshine laws when he commented to the host “that’s my whole goal, to let the light in.” “We’re a public institution,we need to work with the public, not just suppress information and only give it to them when somebody actually asks for it”.
So how much better has transparency been since this board was installed?
Every elected leader is trained on the guidelines and community expectations related to their roles. In addition, this group of four campaigned on transparency, demanded it prior to entering the roles, and aligning themselves with advisors that by their own claims are experts in the law. With all that in place — is there evidence that the board has demonstrated that they have not only awareness, but also understanding of the value of transparency to democracy and have taken that understanding to heart in their actions, behaviors and efforts?
Here is the first video from our school board candidate video series. This is the intro video for the candidates PLUS a bonus question to get the ball rolling. Stay tuned for answers to six community group questions throughout the next weeks.
All candidates were contacted to participate in our video series. Appearance in this video does not imply an endorsement on the candidates.
An Advocate FHSD co-chair caught up with Kevin Commerford at the 9/20/23 school board meeting to ask about his participation. His reply was "We have our own thing happening, thanks."
Kris Wahlke expressed interest in submitting written answers and a photo so we could add a voice-over, but did not meet the Sunday, September 24 deadline for this video. His answers were submitted after the video was edited and posted on Monday, September 25. His answer to these questions are below:
Q: Why are you running for FHSD School Board?
A: To reclaim the Redskins name.
Q: Why now?
A: There is momentum for the Washington Redskins and our current board ran on an anti-CRT platform. The numbers should be there.
Q: How does the Ohio school funding model impact FHSD?
A: Seems our tax dollars are being used outside the district. A lot of the coolest things in the schools are parent funded after taxes.
In the first few weeks of the 2023-2024 school year here in the Forest Hills School District, the Superintendent and Board have made several critical decisions on short timetables that have left parents wondering:
On August 29th, 2023, a soft-lockdown was enacted at 7 of the district's 9 schools. In the first email sent to communicate the lockdown (full email here), Superintendent Hook stated only that "we located an unauthorized individual walking around the Anderson High School campus a short while ago" followed by his second email (available here) which stated, "After a thorough search of the area, it has been determined that the unknown individual is no longer on district property" both quotes seem to imply the man was outside the school and then somehow disappeared.
Hook's email from today (shown above) explains a more serious breach. He provides details explaining that a staff member discovered an adult male had entered Anderson High school through a propped-open side-door and found his way into the hallways during school hours.
Several sources advised us a week ago following the Forest Hills Council meeting (days before the district communicated to the public) that Superintendent Hook had shared the details now provided in an email. We at AdvocateFHSD.org have been gathering information about the incident, and before publishing anything, we reached out to the district yesterday asking for any statement on the situation and submitting a PRR for the surveillance video. Our full email is here.
Who Made the Call to Paint Over the Nagel Mural?
New information from community members indicates that Superintendent Larry Hook likely erased the mural at the direction of board members. Sources suggest Hook may have taken ownership of the decision to misdirect community frustration and to avoid influencing the November election. The Superintendent role is not an elected position, and thus not held accountable with an election cycle.
AdvocateFHSD gathering evidence
AdvocateFHSD.org submitted a public records request on August 15, and as of the publishing of this blog entry, the district has not yet responded. We are concerned that the delay could buy time for board members to conceal communications, as there is potential evidence that at least one board member has done so already.
In September of 2022, Township Trustee public records requests by AdvocateFHSD.org related to the high school consolidation efforts produced text messages between Board Member Sara Jonas and Trustee Lexi Lausten as well as between Jonas and Dee Stone. Jonas stated in an email obtained through PRR that she had no "record to share". If Jonas or any member of the board acted to conceal or obfuscate the text records would demonstrate yet another example where board behavior contradicts their stated goal around transparency. It is possibly a violation of the Records Retention Act, ORC 149.351 putting the district at risk of yet another lawsuit, and reason for the community to express concern for adherence to the laws on record retention.
Today- we confirmed that district leadership, at the direction of Superintendent Larry Hook, approved painting over the student-painted diversity and inclusion mural at Nagel. We are told from a reliable source who spoke with Superintendent Hook, that he admitted responsibility for painting over the mural as well as responsibility for the initial act to hide the mural with a banner.
This action appears to have been taken without a single effort of transparency toward the community, acknowledgment of the many parents that requested meetings, students that sent emails and residents that left voicemail recordings asking for the mural to remain visible.
A statement that the action taken by Mr. Hook and encouraged by the board negatively impacts students doesn’t go far enough - and many feel that this act by the leadership is a betrayal. Many have conveyed to us that they feel compelled to take action to share their frustration with the dismal direction district leadership has taken, since the “Culture of Kindness” resolution was first passed as the central tenet and vision of the “4 for Forest Hills” board members.
Initially, the district told us that the location choice for the banner to promote the new district culture initiative was selected by the consulting company because it was a high traffic area and the fact that it covered the diversity mural was simply a careless mistake that they did not believe would have such an impact. The also said that they also did not feel compelled to correct the mistake. Administrators claimed they would find other ways to memorialize the mural, and we believed they had genuine intent to do so.
This past summer, a well-known and well-liked student mural promoting inclusion was covered by a new banner as part of a culture/branding initiative by Forest Hills.
Community awareness of the action occurred around the time of the 2023-2024 Nagel Open House, and since that time, members of our group have been advocating for the relocation of the banner to allow the student-painted artwork to remain as a symbol of acceptance for all Nagel students.
Today, students have informed us that when they arrived to Nagel this morning, the banner had been removed (as seen below) in what appears to be an unauthorized manner.
Advocate FHSD leadership and members categorically do not condone the destruction of school property at any time, for any reason. At the same time, it is a reasonable and logical conclusion that the act to hide the mural has clearly impacted students, some very personally.
While we acknowledge aggression and physical acts are not the best way to resolve issues, it is clear that the decision to cover the mural will continue to negatively affect students, and there exists a very simple solution - listening to the students asking to allow the inclusive mural to remain visible.
Students in Turpin's GSA independently wrote the district administration, asking for the mural to be moved further signaling the impact to them personally, as well as the apparent miscalculation of the administration regarding potential negative impact to students.
We will continue to encourage district administrators to replace the banner on a different wall and insist they do not cover up this student artwork that is clearly meaningful to many.
If you are so inclined, we suggest an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com to express your thoughts on allowing the mural to remain uncovered, and finding another location for the culture initiative's vinyl banner.
We have also heard that other actions may have been taken today that negatively affect students. We do not yet have evidence to support the claims, so we also ask here: if your student has been asked by a staff member, administrator or board member to remove an article of clothing, sticker, pin, button or keychain because it demonstrates support for one of these celebrated communities shown in the mural by a staff member, administrator or board member, please reach out to us at AdvocateFHSD@gmail.com we would like to hear about the details of the incident.
As a group, Advocate FHSD supports inclusivity and acceptance of every student's personal identity, religion and community of origin – whether that identity is theirs alone or one shared by many, we encourage understanding and acceptance.
That support includes students’ expression of their identities in all legally-acceptable forms–including t-shirts, stickers or other symbols that promote a culture of belonging and, we are committed to continue to respectfully advocate on behalf of a welcoming, warm and accepting culture for all of our community's students and staff.
The “Culture of Kindness” resolution was dictated by an unelected community member, “typed” and introduced by board member Jonas, and passed by a majority (not unanimous) vote. We were all taken by surprise and a little frightened about what it meant for our students. Especially since many of the board members do not appear to have a vested interest in the success of our schools, or students attending the Forest Hills School District (FHSD) themselves, and they seem preoccupied with the “culture war” topic du jour.
As FHSD parents, one thing that we have kept an eye on in the wake of the resolution is the protection of our student’s first amendment rights. For instance, in the case of the student-led walkout over the cancellation of Diversity Day, a portion of students left Turpin and Anderson high schools quietly without disrupting class and exercised their right to peaceful assembly. Since art is a form of speech, we also kept an eye on the murals throughout the buildings. In particular, the Nagel mural about diversity that was painted (with permission) by students has become a symbol of belonging to future students in the years to come.
The diversity mural has been covered by a large banner before the start of the 2023-24 school year to the dismay of some parents and students. We have been told by school leadership that banners have been installed as part of an overall strategy to create a culture where staff can be more proactive, less reactive, and more … inclusive.
Nagel students arriving to the open house tonight were stunned to discover that the student-painted inclusive mural celebrating the diverse authenticity that our students represent has been hidden behind a black tarp with the simple words, "Honest Connections". Several parents received shocked texts like the one shown here as students learned of the change.
In June of 2022, a reliable source suggested that the new board members stated their intentions to pass the Culture of Kindness resolution and use that as a basis to remove the student-created mural from the view of Nagel students and staff. The resolution, passed by the Republican-endorsed school board members Bibb, Jonas, and Hausfeld resulted in an on-going legal battle and depositions of several board members and Superintendent Hook (Depositions can be found here for Jonas, Rasmussen, and Hook) and a former student writing a scathing Op-Ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Rules suggest the board needs to take an open vote to remove the mural, but in the absence of this, a principal may make the decision under the category of "routine maintenance" with the support of the Superintendent and board. Advocate FHSD has submitted a public records request to understand the source of the decision and determine if any link to the Culture of Kindness effort exists.
Students leaving the Open House were informally asked about their feelings on the change, and several stated they were disappointed, and one stated "it felt like a shock, like that it's not okay to celebrate who we are here. Why would they hide something that lets people feel its okay to be themselves here?"
From a timing perspective, wherever this decision came from, it is incredibly poor; in relation to the start of school and open houses & the shock that students would feel, not to mention the potential impact on active campaigns for open board seats. Could this decision possibly drive voter enthusiasm & stronger voter turnout for candidates running on a platform of inclusivity for all students?
If the members of the administration were responsible, this is a significant misstep with regard to the community relationship, and we've heard from a number of teachers that no communication to staff was initiated, either. With a board meeting scheduled for August 16th, why not announce the intent to change, or take a vote by the board to ensure transparency and protect the community from speculation and overreaction and allow parents to prepare students for the change?
Banners similar to the one shown are placed in all stairwells which indicates some consistency, and other murals not originally targeted by the "4 for Forest Hills" that drove less controversy are still visible. Some may appreciate that the decision to hide the mural with a large printed banner suggests they had time to order the sign in advance, why not take that time to communicate the intent in advance at the upcoming board meeting and to staff as well?
We will continue to update the blog as more information becomes available, and evidence of the origins of the decision are provided.
As a side note, Advocate FHSD will be creating & donating 1000 free stickers of the mural in honor of the student art and making the stickers available for students to add to binders, water bottles, notebooks and lunch containers should they want one to remind themselves and others that in this community, no matter your race, gender, religion or sexual orientation there are more people that celebrate our community's diversity than those that do not. Please stay tuned, we'll be digging in to see where the origin of the decision lies, and why no communication of the change was provided to the community in advance.
It's official ... we now have our list of 2023 school board candidates for the Forest Hills School District (FHSD). They've turned in their petitions and while one candidate is still waiting to have his signatures confirmed, it is likely district residents will see these names on the ballot for FHSD school board on November 7th, 2023. While Advocate FHSD does not endorse candidates, we are committed to presenting election information as quickly and as accurately as possible.
Candidates for the board
Stay tuned for more updates as the campaign unfolds.
In this video, board members Leslie Rasmussen and Sara Jonas discuss the "Culture of Kindness" resolution. Jonas states she authored the resolution. Her deposition under oath states differently. Read below for additional details of this story.
Jonas testifies she is not the author of the resolution
In late 2022, a lawsuit against the Forest Hills School District suing to rescind the controversial and divisive 'Culture of Kindness' resolution was brought forth.
Community members widely panned the document as harmful to staff & students, and risky to the district. Despite protests, emails asking for the resolution to be rescinded, national and international negative news coverage, damage to their personal reputations and expensive lawsuits as well as the predictable impact to voter turnout to the levy vote in May - Board members Hausfeld, Bibb, and Stewart seem inexplicably committed to this misguided Resolution.
Recently, depositions were taken from Superintendent Larry Hook, Board Member Sara Jonas, and Board member Dr. Leslie Rasmussen. Depositions are available for the public to read here.
Cincinnati Enquirer's Education reporter, Maddie Mitchell, published an article Wednesday, February 15 2023, following up with a summary of the depositions.
The depositions are disheartening. The statements taken under oath expose conflicting claims of that the Resolution is "unenforceable", but per the depositions, incidents of enforcement and attempted enforcement have occurred against staff & students causing demonstrable harm - the depositions outline at least four instances of action taken against staff and students.
The resolution has also brought negative press to the district locally, nationally and internationally.. In addition to our local press, national & international media went viral as a TikTok video of Sara Jonas defending "Anti-anti-racism" had over 5 million views and thousands of comments. Nationally, Newsweek covered the video, and an article in the Herald Sun, an Australian publication, ensured international scrutiny as well.
Sara Jonas reportedly received emailed threats following the publications of her actions, which this group vehemently condemns. Knowing all of this, any reasonable person would question why the board insists on defending the document at all ... but there may be some insight in page 130 of Sara Jonas' deposition.
When questioned about the origins of the document, Sara Jonas under oath stated she merely 'typed' the Resolution - a clear conflict with her public statement at a public board meeting, June 22, 2022 (audio available on YouTube, at 1:32:00) where she claimed, "I am the one who authored it."
Jonas' states that Megan Fullen, a community member, 'helped draft' the Resolution of Kindness on page 130 of the deposition. Jonas explains Megan Fullen began helping with the drafting of the Resolution as early as November, 2021. Jonas also explains they often met at Fullen's home.
Our district’s core defining feature is that Forest Hills School District structure provides small neighborhood school opportunities and connections to students and residents while enjoying the benefits of a large community’s resources. This unique equation delivers high-quality student outcomes at a lower cost to taxpayers, and is ultimately what differentiates Forest Hills schools from other similarly rated districts in southwest Ohio.
For three decades, community leaders have explored the costs, risks, opportunities and benefits of the neighborhood-centric school structure in Forest Hills. The district reviewed the situation in 2010, 2014, and again through the passing of a supportive operating levy in 2019 - the community bet that the benefits of our unique structure were not superceded by the alternative.
The residents’ bet on the schools’ current structure continues to pay off … Forest Hills school district quality ranks a top priority for nearly all new home buyers. A home in Forest Hills stays on the market fewer days than nearby competing schools showing demand for our area remains high, and buyers have seen a growing return on their investments in property in FHSD.
Why focus on how we can be more like other neighboring districts when what attracts families to the Forest Hills is the way in which we are different? It’s time to celebrate our unique characteristics and protect the primary reason so many choose to live here. Let’s recognize our neighborhood school structure for the jewel that it is.
Our school district is the number one reason people choose to move in to the community
FHSD neighborhood schools attract families looking for an affordable, top-quality education for their children. According to the Anderson Township housing study, 95% selected this district primarily for the schools, which increased after the 2014 bond issue & $103M investment that many perceived put the consolidation argument to rest.
The choice may also be made easier because home prices here are more affordable than in other nearby areas, and buyers appreciate the opportunity that the neighborhood structure provides them; schools closer to home offer the opportunity for working adults to volunteer and engage more easily. Studies have shown that parent & guardian involvement in their children’s education has been proven to yield higher grades and test scores, and better social skills among many other benefits.
Students and their families develop life-long relationships over the years here in Forest Hills; residents of all ages attend affordable entertainment in school sports and performing arts events, creating a culture that many return after graduation to raise their families here. We also have the added benefit of enticing many of our district’s teachers to benefit from this community as well, nearly 60% of our teachers live, play and earn here in Anderson Township.
Investing in FHSD is a sound decision, and money has historically been well managed
Welcome to AdvocateFHSD! We’re so happy to have you here. Strong public schools = strong communities. Here, we strive to engage and inform the FHSD community, and empower residents to be the best advocates for our students, teachers, administrators, and district.