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Parents filing grievance against CdA School Board

The Coeur d’Alene School Board is accused of religious discrimination, fiscal irresponsibility and ethics lapses in a grievance to be filed today by a group of Coeur d’Alene and Hayden residents.

The 20-page complaint, supported by a petition signed by more than 100 residents, was prompted by the board’s controversial decision at the start of the school year to eliminate the Primary Years Program at Hayden Meadows Elementary School.

Nicole Olson and Ashlie Unruh, who helped prepare the grievance, said they would like to see the PYP teaching framework reinstated at the school. More than that, though, they want school trustees to follow district and state policies when making decisions.

“If they look at it again and choose to get rid of it … they need to have valid, supported reasons for removing the program,” said Olson, the mother of a first grader at Hayden Meadows.

She and Unruh said the board’s unanimous vote last October to discontinue PYP appeared to stem from trustees’ personal dislike for the program and not the result of an open-minded analysis.

“Really they based it on their own opinions and emotions, I think, and not a lot else,” said Unruh, who has four children attending Hayden Meadows. “People felt they had no voice and no choice in the matter. I think teachers and parents both felt like, wow, we were not heard.”

Designed for students ages 3 to 12, PYP focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and the world outside.

Critics told the board last year that PYP is anti-American and aligned with the United Nations, and board members called PYP a social-political philosophy that has no place in public schools. Several trustees took issue with it for encouraging students to think of themselves as citizens of the world.

“A global citizen would then be a member of the world, owes allegiance to it and is entitled to the international rights of the U.N.,” Trustee Ann Seddon said in explaining her opposition to it.

The board axed PYP eight weeks after it voted to eliminate the affiliated International Baccalaureate program at Lake City High School, citing low enrollment and lackluster test scores.

The grievance alleges that those decisions “harmed and interrupted our children’s education, undermined the skills and authority of our administrators, and demoralized our teachers.”

It asks the board to reverse all decisions that do not reflect its ethical and procedural responsibilities, including reinstating PYP at Hayden Meadows. The grievance also requests an investigation of the decision-making process that led to the removal of the IB program at Lake City High.

Further, it asks for a formal review or hearing by a neutral party to determine whether the board violated its code of ethics or other district and state policies.

“It is the role of our school board to make tough policy and program decisions that ultimately set the direction of our public school system,” district spokeswoman Laura Rumpler said Thursday. “At times, the school board is applauded for those decisions and at times they are criticized for those decisions.”

Rumpler added the board reviews all public input as it works to represent wide-ranging interests of district constituents. “As is their practice, I know they will thoroughly review the comments submitted to them today,” she said.

The grievance alleges the board violated its discrimination policy because Chairman Tom Hamilton made a statement last September that PYP’s moral relativism conflicts with his family’s belief in moral absolutes. Those comments “demonstrate discrimination against the creed of parents … who personally embrace the religion-neutral, humanitarian principles utilized by the program,” the grievance states.

The grievance also claims:

•It was fiscally irresponsible of the board to walk away from a program that was fully funded for two years.

•The board violated its own ethics policies of making decisions based on available facts and independent judgment, and of conducting themselves in an open, fair and honest way.

•The board failed to follow its chain of command by directly addressing problems that should have been referred to the district administration.

•An email exchange between trustees constituted deliberation on the PYP issue in violation of state law on conducting the public’s business in open meetings.

“This is not just about PYP for us,” Unruh said. “For those of us involved in this grievance, this is about a school board making ethical and responsible decisions. It’s holding them accountable for that. We don’t want any future decisions to be made in the same manner. That is why we are doing this.”

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