ELY – At least one ISD 696 parent is objecting to the inclusion of a book in the required reading list for eleventh-grade English students, and he requested the school board remove the book …
ELY – At least one ISD 696 parent is objecting to the inclusion of a book in the required reading list for eleventh-grade English students, and he requested the school board remove the book from the list.
Parent Chad Davis made the request to the board during the open forum portion of their meeting Monday night. He initially asked for clarification on how the book title came to be donated to the school district, how the book title was accepted, and how the decision was made to have the book title included in the high school junior-level English reading curriculum.
Funds were donated to the school district by a local advocacy group late last year, according to Superintendent Erik Erie. Decisions on specific books included in school curriculum are made by the school staff and administration.
The book in question is “I’m Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown. The book was published in 2018 by Crown Publishing Group.
The New York Times bestseller is described, “From a leading voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female that exposes how white America’s love affair with ‘diversity’ so often falls short of its ideals.”
Davis said he learned about a month ago that the title is currently a requirement to be read and discussed in the English 11 course.
“I read the book. (It is) a book filled with hate speech, racial division, anti-white rhetoric and cancel culture all rooted in critical race theory. This book isn’t written well, nor has it any literary value. It is one person’s jaded perspective about a specific race,” he said.
Davis continued, “Fighting hate with hate accomplishes absolutely nothing. It offers absolutely no insight or solution to close the gap between races. In fact, it furthers the divide.”
Davis sent an email describing his concerns to the English teacher, James Lah, 6-12 Principal Megan Anderson, Erie and the school board. A virtual online meeting was held late last month involving Davis, Lah and Anderson.
“Little to nothing was accomplished other than the book will not be removed and will continue to be required reading,” Davis said.
Davis said he followed up with recommendations for alternative books for the English class.
“The public school classroom is not the platform for Austin Channing Brown’s book,” Davis said. “I along with many other members of this community are requesting the school board to approve the immediate removal of this book as required reading in the English Department. I would also ask the board to consider additional information be required when an individual or organization donates a book.”
According to ISD 696 school board policy, members are not allowed to engage in a discussion or debate on topics brought up by visitors during the open forum portion of the agenda.
The issue may be discussed at the school board’s April 26 study session, according to Erie.
School board members approved spending as much as $165,000 for asbestos removal and abatement procedures, along with air quality monitoring during the process, as part of the school facility construction and renovation project.
The lowest qualified bidder, ACCT, Inc., submitted a bid of $99,990 for the job. Other quotes received were from AbateTek, Inc., $116,000, and Bieniwk’s Abatement Services, $185,000.
In addition, Institute for Environmental Assessment (IEA) was approved to spend up to $65,000 for time and materials for on-site air monitoring and project management for the asbestos abatement during construction.
Erie noted that the project architect, Architectural Resources Inc., recommended that discussions and decisions on funding the asbestos abatement take place after the bids are received, tabulated and approved (early next month) for the second phase of the $20 million construction project.
Bids for the first phase of the project were approved by the school board at a special meeting earlier this month. A total of 111 bids totaling $11,847,543 were received for the various segments of the project.
“That was within one-and-a-half percent of what (Kraus-Anderson) estimated. They were really pleased, considering what we have been hearing about construction costs. They are hoping the second round will be just as good,” Erie said.
He noted a couple of alternates received for the first phase of the project, including electrified glass that turns opaque for safety (during lockdowns) or distractions, moisture mitigation, if needed for the terrazzo floor installation, and the campus water main location and hookup.
“It should be noted,” said KA Senior Project Manager Mike Dosan in a letter to the school board, “that the contractor for the Gymnasium Equipment work scope is a non-union contractor (but) stated they will sign the Project Labor Agreement and will pay fringe benefits to the union. If a non-union contractor (H&B Specialized Products, Inc.) is not acceptable, then the second bidder would be H2I Group, and their bid is $68,500 (an increase of $18,600). H2I is a union company using carpenters to install the equipment.”
The school board also heard from Greg Crower, of Ehlers Public Finance Advisors, who said that the voter-approved bond sale, held Monday, for the school district’s deferred facilities maintenance and indoor air quality improvements “was all good news today.”
Seven bids were received for the bonds. The low bid was from Baird Associates, of Milwaukee, Wis.
“That was a big number as there is still a lot of demand out there for bonds in the financial markets,” he said. “We received an interest rate that is about three-tenths of a percent lower than what we projected, which means a lower cost for borrowing, and a slight increase ($45,000) in the funds available for the construction project.”
The interest rate on the $2.7 million bond is 1.32 percent. Total debt service payments are estimated to be about $11,000 lower than pre-sale estimates, according to Crowe.
One new reported case of coronavirus was reported on Monday as all K-12 students returned to in-person learning and spring sports practices commenced at ISD 696.
“Right now we are up to two active cases,” Erie told school board members.
The 30 coronavirus cases reported in the school community from March 15 through the first week of April are no longer considered “active” cases, he said.
The lone case that was reported on Monday does not affect anybody as far as quarantine protocols because all students were in distance learning.
“We continue to track all cases and we have a lot of (COVID-19) testing going on,” he added.
The school district administrative team continues to have frequent consultations with the St. Louis County Public Health Department. The school district’s safe learning plan calls for the administrative team to make changes to the learning protocols after consulting with the Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council.
“However, due to timing related to our school calendar, like around Easter (break), we felt we needed to make some decisions before the Thursday advisory council meeting, so we went ahead and made some decisions on Wednesdays. We felt it necessary that our employees and families had a heads up on what we were doing,” Erie said.
As of Tuesday, April 13, the cumulative COVID-19 positive test count for the Ely school community is 46 for the school year.
With all students transitioning back to in-person learning, Memorial school students finally opened their spring sports seasons for baseball, softball, track and golf, as many as three weeks behind schedule.
“It was nice to hear the sounds of our teams getting their first practices underway,” said ISD 696 Athletic Director Tom Coombe. “The track runners were running through on the lower floors of the school because of the poor weather outside. The softball team was in the gymnasium getting their first practice going. The baseball team was in the gym later.”
Despite being sidelined while other schools were practicing and competing, Ely athletes will start competition as early as next week. The COVID-19 delays prompted numerous changes to the various spring schedules, according to Coombe. Games set for last week are postponed first, followed by contests set for this week.
According to the athletic director, the first games or contests for Ely students include:
• Baseball, Tuesday, April 20, home game against North Woods,
• Softball, Thursday, April 22, home game against Chisholm,
• Boys and Girls Track, Thursday April 22 at Mesabi East,
• Boys and Girls Golf, to be determined.
Baseball field wedding
ISD 696 physical education teacher Max Gantt was given the “safe” signal by school board members to conduct his wedding ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Field on Sunday, June 6.
In a letter to the school board, Gantt said, “The baseball field is an outside space that has true sentimental value to me. To be married there would mean a lot to me. The baseball field is a place I take care of in the summer. I cut and water the grass. I keep the blacktop clean. I sweep the dugouts and fix the mound. The baseball field is my home during the summer. I coach kids and watch games there. I would love to get married there and add that to the list of memories I have in that place.”
Gantt assured the school board that a safe wedding celebration could be conducted with plenty of social distancing. As school will be done for the year, any liability for the gathering would be covered by the Ely Baseball Association, the group that manages the facility.
Gantt did not seek decorating help for the wedding celebration, however, Ely 6-12 Principal Megan Anderson said the Class of 2021 graduation celebration is scheduled for Saturday, June 5 at Veterans Memorial Field. “I encouraged Max to go with red and white as his wedding colors so the place would already be decorated for him. We’ll see what happens.” It was not made clear if Gantt’s in-laws will be occupying the visitors’ dugout, nor who will be calling balls and strikes, during the ceremony.
In other business, the board:
• Accepted the retirement request of veteran Industrial Education teacher Rob Simonich, and effective June 7.
• Approved the resignations of K-12 reading specialist Krista Moyer and school readiness classroom assistant Seija Packila.
• Approved the following coaches – Megan Wognum, assistant softball coach, Nate LaFond, assistant girls track coach, Tim Singleton, volunteer assistant baseball coach, Derek Johnson, volunteer junior high baseball coach, Sara Spate, Toni Dauwalter, Darren Visser, Joseph Kucera, and Megan Devine, volunteer assistant track coaches, Tony Rechichi and Jim Wittrup, volunteer assistant softball coaches,
• Approved a request from Happy Days Preschool for a refund of $1,000 due to the displacement of their program from mid-March to the end of the school year.