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 Despite protests, emails asking for the resolution to be rescinded, national and international negative news coverage, damage to their personal reputations and expensive lawsuits as well as the predictable impact to voter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.
This date is not long after the election - and Jonas' admission to the timing of their meetings which extended from November 2021 to mid-2022 overlapped another accusation of misconduct by members of the board: a violation of the open meetings act by meeting as a group at the Fullen's home. Photographs of board members were captured by a neighbors' camera of several arriving & staying for several hours in Fullen's home, an accusation that was denied by all parties and defended as 'a brunch'.
The origins of this document & the motivation behind it are further clouded by the district's legal defense, claiming "legislative privilege" - which they use to object to any question related to the motivation behind the document. A convenient argument which may provide cover for the actual author - as Sara Jonas may not be able to respond to motivations since she only "typed" the document.
Wherever the idea for the Resolution originated, all others in the district live with the consequences of the outcome - including staff, students, the community through the damage to the district brand, and the insurance premiums which certainly will go up (According to a statement in Superintendent Hook's deposition, insurance covers the legal fees & any financial remedies related to legal decisions against the district), not to mention the damage to the reputations of board members Bibb, Hausfeld, Jonas and Stewart.
It is impossible to see the District's strategy behind sustaining this fight when the only recordable outcomes to date have been negative to all involved, and, will be irrecoverable should the defense of the Resolution impact Levy voter turnout and ultimately defund the District.
If the board had any strategic sense at all and truly wanted the levy to pass - they'd see the unforced error they've made by continuing to defend it, and scrap the Resolution. If the board's intent is truly to protect ALL students, they'd start by focusing on garnering additional support to fund the district to ensure there are enough teachers for reasonably-sized classrooms, compelling courses, challenging projects and programs and support for those students with special challenges and learning needs. If the board's intent is to fund this district, they'd do anything and everything to pass the levy, including set aside any and all activity related to this Resolution or similar policies - that distracts or impacts the district's need to pass the levy in May.
If you are not a paid subscriber to the Cincinnati Enquirer, we highly recommend a subscription to encourage continued coverage of education topics in Ohio. A link to a gifted subscriber's copy of the article is also located here.
Offer of support for a Levy in May 2023
Last week, our organization sent an email extending an offer to the board to meet and engage in a strategy to pass a levy, beginning with ideas on levy structure and ways to regain community trust. To date, we have not heard back. Our intent is this: We desire a healthy District, and we are willing to partner with the board to pass a levy and hope the community will also rise to the occasion. We do not intend to stop the important oversight of the boards’ actions; we believe it is the only thing that has helped the community have visibility and enabled residents to provide their voices to encourage the board to arrive at the conclusion to consider a levy. We hope to hear back from Board President Hausfeld, but we will proceed as we see fit if the board chooses not to accept our olive branch on this shared vision of passing a successful levy.
Dear FHSD Administration & Members of the Board,
On behalf of the board of FHSD, we would like to convey our support of a levy for the district to be on the ballot in May of 2023.
We observe however, that our approach to support district excellence by providing community oversight has made our relationship with the board and administration a difficult one to navigate, and we understand the challenge that proceeding together may pose.
We believe it is imperative for the success of a levy that we find common ground to execute a reasonable and community-supported path to reinforcing the on-going financial solvency of Forest Hills.
Community trust with the board was never high, but it is at an all-time low at the moment. To pass a levy, a bridge to span the gap likely needs to begin with us; the first step is for Advocate FHSD to offer our willingness to the board to discuss ways we can provide support for intentional actions by the district leaders to restore trust with the community to lay the foundation of work to pass a levy for the Forest Hills School District in 2023.
Building trust is an act of humility, and one we recognize will not come at a cost somewhere else. Humility is a pure demonstration of courage as one acknowledges a problem exists and then takes steps to address it through reasonable means with authentic intent.
We would like to meet with the Superintendent and the Board President to discuss ways to collaborate on ideas of how we might help the board pass levy once some good faith efforts by the board are made, through a stronger communication strategy & a few conciliatory moves.
For reference of how else we might assist, we share here informal gathered feedback which we openly share here from a large and engaged portion of our resident population to guide our recommendations. A recent survey posted on Facebook suggests these three options have the most support:
Once the effort to restore trust is underway, we believe that presenting options for a levy aligned to the community’s support is the only reasonable way for this district to proceed, and hope to assist if you are willing to partner to do so.
We look forward to hearing from you,
Sincerely, the board at Advocate FHSD
Thank you for advocating with us!
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