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Parents Group Criticizes Influence Of Conservative Activists On Schools

Some parents say the Coeur d’Alene School Board pays too much attention to conservative activists, allowing them undue influence on school policy.

Late Tuesday, a group of two dozen or more parents asked school board trustees to adopt a conflict resolution policy. Such a policy, one parent said, would ensure that parent complaints are researched and checked for accuracy before trustees respond.

The parents seeking the policy, for the most part, represent a backlash against the influence of conservatives on the school district’s board of trustees. However, they say the policy would treat all parents fairly by defusing their conflicts.

“There is a real groundswell by conservative parents who want to go back to basics,” said parent Carol Lindsay. “While the large majority of parents are satisfied with their children’s education, this small minority is influencing policy changes.”

The result, Lindsay said, is a school district that is “very reactionary … very much complaint-driven.”

Lindsay was the only parent who spoke to the trustees about the proposed policy at their regular meeting Tuesday. But the meeting was attended by so many people that it had to be moved to the Lakes Middle School library.

School board chairman Ken Burchell said he and other trustees will consider a more streamlined method of dealing with parent conflicts in a school policy workshop next month.

The board may be caught in a cross-fire created by a Republican election landslide last November. With Republican Anne Fox at the helm of public schools statewide, grass-roots groups have begun lobbying school boards with renewed vigor.

For example, Coeur d’Alene schools superintendent Doug Cresswell met with 40 members of Parents for Academic Excellence on Friday. The back-to-basics group of parents is working on a list of problems it wants addressed by the school district.

Fox participated in the parent meeting by telephone.

Sherie Smith, a member of Parents for Academic Excellence, said the group is not a mere handful of parents blowing smoke.

“We’re not attacking people and we’re not attacking programs,” Smith said. “We’re talking about district-wide policies that affect our children and our community.”

Mary Thorburn-Henry, who along with Lindsay wants a conflict resolution policy in place, bemoans the influence of Parents for Academic Excellence.

Since its inception a year ago, the group has successfully lobbied the school board to cut back on cross-age classes. Cross-age classes allow students of different ages - first- and second-graders, for example, to participate in the same class. To some parents, it seems a substantial departure from traditional teaching methods.

Thorburn-Henry said the Parents for Academic Excellence have just as much right as anyone to lobby the school board. But the group’s influence has helped shape a board that now micro-manages the school district at the whim of a few parents, she said.

Superintendent Cresswell acknowledged that the district responded to Parents for Academic Excellence’s concerns about cross-age classes. He said the school district already has a procedure for handling parent complaints.

“I think our board and administration needs to be responsive to any group of parents,” Cresswell said.


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