Today, NPR reported that the Forest Hills School District offered to settle the lawsuit surrounding the Culture of Kindness Resolution, a written document created in part between Sara Jonas and several local residents and implemented in a flurry of chaos over a year ago.
In June of 2022, members of the Forest Hills School District Board of Education Linda Hausfeld, Bob Bibb and Sara Jonas voted in support of a resolution that banned assignments where students would have to consider their race, socioeconomic class, religion, gender identity and sexuality. Board members Leslie Rasmussen and Katie Stewart voted against the resolution.
Soon after, a group of parents and teachers filed a federal lawsuit claiming the resolution violated their constitutional rights.
In October the judge assigned to the case issued a ruling on a motion to dismiss by the district. At that time the district issued a statement stating they intended to continue the fight to enact the language of the resolution “vigorously”.
The negative impact of external agenda-driven groups isn’t a risk here in Forest Hills, it’s already a reality.
In a series of emails recovered through a Public Records Request (PRR) and social media content garnered from investigations into education-attacking political groups, we learned
that the “4 for Forest Hills” may have allowed the influence of potentially fringe political party members, dark-money group leaders and non-FHSD residents, to drive the agenda that they've attempted to implement — bringing expensive and embarrassing consequences to our district as shown in previous blog posts.
2023 School Board candidates answer the question: How do you interpret the "Culture of Kindness" resolution and how would you address concerns that it is stifling free speech?
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.
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.
Last night at the 8/17/2022 regular meeting of the Forest Hills School District Board of Education, Dr. Leslie Rasmussen proposed a motion to repeal the "Resolution to Create a Culture of Kindness and Equal Opportunity for All Students and Staff." The motion came after the board was presented with a change.org petition signed by just over 3,000 residents of the Forest Hills School District. In a surprise move, board member Katie Stewart — who originally voted AGAINST the resolution — refused to second the motion to repeal it. This has led to speculation that she is actually for the resolution that censors students and teachers from talking about diversity of all kinds in the classroom, essentially erasing the ability for students to get to know each other and create understanding and empathy.
Honesty for Ohio Education put out a statement early this morning condemning the lack of action at the board meeting. Advocate FHSD supports and highlights this statement. The resolution is no good for the students and the overall reputation of our beloved school dstrict.
It is clear that the Forest Hills community does not want the toxic ‘Culture of Kindness’ resolution poisoning their schools. This brazen act of disrespect for the students, families and educators by refusing to hold a vote against the resolution is yet another attempt by extremist elected officials to hold honest education hostage and weaponize race and identity,” says Cynthia Peeples, founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education.
Advocate Sarah Crable recently had a beautifully written opinion published by The Cincinnati Enquirer. To support her self-initiated efforts to achieve our shared goals, Advocate FHSD would like to highlight this op-ed titled "Forest Hills School Board members who support racist resolution must resign."
Sarah was born and raised in the Cincinnati area and spent 13 years of her schooling in the Forest Hills School District (FHSD). Sarah is currently an undergraduate student studying international relations at Stanford University.
FHSD is lucky to have Sarah Crable in its corner, and we are lucky to have this advocate in our group! Thank you Sarah!
If we are to have any hope of fostering a safe and constructive environment for all students in Forest Hills, Bibb, Hausfeld, and Jonas cannot remain in their positions. They have demonstrated a commitment to creating a culture of discrimination and hostility, of flagrant racism and ignorance. They cannot sit in positions that purport to act in the interest of student welfare while championing policies that will do such great harm to students of color and LGBTQ+ students. It is time for them to resign so the school district can get serious about prioritizing student needs — including the need for anti-racist education.
The Forest Hills Foundation for Education (FHFE) has supported the Forest Hills School District for over 14 years and provides funding for much needed critical initiatives that lead to the success of FHSD students. In a recent statement, the organization reassures the community that they will continue to provide their crucial services, while distancing themselves from the overall message of the "Culture of Kindness" resolution passed on June 22, 2022. As a community, we thank FHFE for their continued support of students and teachers in the district. Read their statement:
Forest Hills Foundation for Education Response to the FHSD Board of Education June 22, 2022 Resolution
As Board members and staff of the Foundation, we are inspired and guided by our Vision, Mission, and Values.
As a group of parents, community members, corporate and nonprofit leaders, we believe we need to understand others’ differences and backgrounds to be successful. We must be able to have civil conversations and debates. The classroom creates a safe environment for students to make mistakes, learn and grow. We continue to believe in and support research based best practices in education such as fostering effective learning environments, including activities which ensure the ability for students to be heard and have a sense of belonging.
In the coming school year, we will continue to consider grant requests from the Forest Hills School District, increase our grant allocation to our front-line educators through Teacher Grants, and add a new category of School Group Community Grants - working through our PTAs and PTOs to hear directly from parents and students. We believe this approach will lead to even better outcomes for every student to have the resources to reach their full potential. We will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that our grants support our Vision, Mission, and Values.
For over 14 years, the Foundation has supported the Forest Hills School District by funding critical initiatives for the success of our students - Nagel After School tutoring and student clubs; a Child Focus Therapist; STEM programs such as Destination Imagination, Esports and Robotics; and Teacher Grants. We continue to believe the most effective and efficient way to impact the largest number of students is by partnering with the Forest Hills School District.
Thank you for your trust in us to achieve the Foundation’s important and rewarding Mission to serve our students.
The views and opinions expressed by individuals and entities on this blog are their own and do not reflect the views or positions of AdvocateFHSD.org.
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.