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.
Evidence shows Milford resident and influential member of the local Tea Party, Sue Hardenbergh, in concert with a few other individuals, demanded a board vote for the now legally-challenged “Culture of Kindness” Resolution in June of 2022, before all board members even knew of the document or the intent behind the Resolution.
Before Bibb, Hausfeld, Jonas and Stewart were elected, the Anderson Tea Party leader, who has been pushing back on education policy since the early days of Common Core,
offered to pay for their school board training.
Additionally, Hardenbergh and anti-government group Moms For Liberty recruited non-residents to protest “CRT” in 2021 at board meetings in May and June of 2021 - more on that in a moment.
Several emails provide evidence that a number of individuals — including residents Max Black and Bill Pitts, and current candidate Ken Kuhn — worked to exert influence on board members to include the resolution the agenda of the June 22, 2022 meeting after learning it was not included in the publicly posted agenda June 20. Pitts' email is dated Monday night, hours before the agenda update is requested by Jonas.
Kuhn's email attempts to influence Linda to pass the Resolution "tomorrow night" — and suggests he perceived it would have been already implemented before the end of the 2021-2022 school year. This email could suggest Kuhn had knowledge in advance of the vote, how far in advance we have not yet determined.
In another attempt to influence the board's timing and decision on the topic, Kuhn stressed that Katie Stewart should sign the resolution, or the result will be "18 months of bitter battles over the curriculum." Hardenbergh points out that setting policy "prevents the retarding of childhood development by any person guiding them in ways that limit their opportunities for a wholesome life."
The resolution was ultimately added to the meeting agenda as the external parties had suggested; Sara Jonas requested an update to the original agenda at 6:30am on June 21. The agenda had already been posted, and in apparent violation of their own policy to post the agenda 3 days ahead of a meeting, the adjustment to the agenda was made as requested.
However, time stamps on the emails shown from a number of people suggest that many outside of the district leadership knew of the Resolution prior to it even being added to the board’s agenda, and before all board members even knew of the existence of the draft. In fact, Board member Dr. Leslie Rasmussen was expressly denied drafts of the document, and was forced to submit her own PRR to gain access to earlier drafts, a PRR that was rejected by the district.
A vote to enact the Resolution was quickly called, too, before any broad feedback or consideration by the community was invited. Sara Jonas’ deposition outlines her awareness of the policy... She even explains that she had decided to put the Resolution on the agenda a few days prior, and when asked who she shared the draft with — she replies she gave one to "Bob, and Linda and Katie" prior to the meeting. (Jonas deposition, page 110 of 283).
Interestingly, this rushed vote and lack of access to a document by the public mirrors an action not unlike one Bob Bibb complained about by previous board members in 2020, which garnered a number of emoji support from his followers.
Fringe actors from any group exerting demonstrable influence on an elected body overrides parents and residents within a district. Parental rights begin with the ability to know transparently who they are electing, and whether or not the positions the candidates and elected officials support are their own or originate from shadow-actors, extremist groups or fringe players of a political party. Further, the actions of shadow actors to influence and drive their own agendas erase any motivation board members might have to connect with the community authentically — the money and motivations are hidden from plain view of the voters and residents. When board members accept influence such as this, they knowingly circumvent the will and voices of the people within the FHSD community and cause drama within our district.
One could also question why board members would need outside influence — perhaps the positions held by the members and outside agitators doesn’t reflect many in our FHSD community. Why else would the county Moms for Liberty chapter call for protesters from outside the community? Why would any agenda with strong support from within the community need non-resident protestors, speakers, and agitators if they truly believe they are representing a majority-held position?
Sara Jonas stated under oath in her deposition December 21, 2022 that she didn’t write the Culture of Kindness Resolution, correcting her attempt to misguide the community otherwise at an earlier school board meeting where she claimed she did write it. In her deposition, she avoided responding to questions about her motivation for the document — could that have been because the motivation did not originate with our board — but elsewhere?
We will continue to work to discover other examples, as there may be still be more yet to be uncovered. How much influence do non-residents and dark-money groups with agendas have now, and how much more will they exert after this election?
Has the elected leadership been guided to undermine the state-approved curriculum for Social Emotional Learning, which reduces poor behavior in classrooms by teaching students empathy, self-awareness and understanding of emotions, and to eliminate Comprehensive Sexual Education, which studies have shown reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies and the transmission of diseases?
What is next from these groups? What direction should we anticipate they will take? We can look to evidence they have themselves written and we show below, but ultimately the power we as people wield is in taking our civic duties as voters seriously.
As voting citizens and residents of Forest Hills School District, it is up to us to understand what is nuance — when a candidate reads, researches, discusses with experts within and without the district to make up their own mind on a particular matter — and what is dictated; are our leaders being force-fed policies that don't fit this district's values?
The only way we as residents can ensure our elected leadership can be trusted is to research of the candidates, to ask them who guides them, how did they arrive at their particular positions? Once elected, it is our civic duty to provide oversight for elected officials to ensure they act with integrity, ethical practices, and transparently to the community they serve. But our most important duty as Americans is to show up and vote for representation by candidates that share our values, perhaps send their children to these very same public schools they intend to guide, and invest in the community beyond the property taxes they pay. Vote on or by November 7.
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.