News Today – Concerns raised over perceived political bias in classrooms | News, Sports, Jobs

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News Photo by Alyssa Ochss
Alpena Public Schools Board of Education Trustee Eric Lawson, middle, speaks during the board meeting on Monday.

ALPENA — Tension between parents, community, and the Alpena Public Schools Board of Education continued at Monday night’s school board meeting, where former APS parents for the first time spoke out about how a teacher’s political leanings impacted their child’s education.

A woman who identified herself only as Martha, told the board of a teacher who was giving people extra credit and a guaranteed passing grade if they worked for a specific politician’s campaign.

Martha said her daughter didn’t need the extra credit, but wanted to work on a different politician’s campaign, and had to persuade the teacher to let her do so.

“That is totally wrong,” Martha said. “Our teachers are not to tell our kids who they can work for and pointing them in different directions. I was so disappointed.”

She then began telling the board about an English paper her daughter was asked to write on illegal immigration, but was cut off by board president Ned Heath when her three-minute time limit expired.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson
A group of parents and community members participate in a prayer circle Monday before the Alpena Public Schools Board of Education meeting outside of the district’s Central Office building.

Members of the audience tried to give up their time so Martha could finish, but Heath firmly stood by his decision. He also offered her the opportunity to return to the podium during the second round of public comment.

“Elections have consequences,” someone shouted at Heath, and the school board, from the back of the room, which was echoed by someone yelling “Amen” and a round of applause from those attending the meeting.

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Martha’s testimony brought former APS parent Gretchen Woods to the podium. Woods told the board of an incident one of her two children had while attending the high school.

Woods said her daughter was afraid to speak in her government class about who she would vote for president if she were able to vote. She said her daughter was afraid of the other students, who had opposing beliefs, because they would go on and on, and the teacher would not stop them.

“It made me so angry,” she said.

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss
Alpena Public Schools Superintendent Dave Rabbideau and Board of Education President Ned Heath listen during a board meeting on Monday.

More than a dozen parents and community members came before the board to talk about racism in the school, transgender students using bathrooms of the gender they identify with, and bullying in the schools.

Some parents voiced concerns and fears their children, who are minorities, have about attending school this year, while other parents told the board they have decided to home school their children this year over things that were said during the district’s town hall meeting.

Some community members tried to offer solutions during the meeting, such as offering a more diverse selection of books in school libraries.

Doris Feys, president of the League of Women Voters of Northeast Michigan, said she was asked by the League to make a statement to the school board. Feys said the League is a nonpartisan organization that is also an advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring physical, mental, social health, and wellbeing for all Americans.

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“There is no basis for the denial of equal rights or transgender status to any human being because of their sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or transgender status,” Feys said. “As president of our local League, I encourage all school board members to support our teachers in teaching in a fair, just, and equitable manner.”

News Photo by Crystal Nelson

A group of citizens hold signs along Chisholm Street on Monday as part of a Stand Together Peaceful Protest, intended to communicate to the Alpena School Board it must not ignore race, climate change, or discriminate against students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

Tensions voiced at the school board meeting have also spurred action within the community, where two groups with differing viewpoints held separate events prior to the board meeting. One group held a brief prayer circle outside of APS Central Office while A Stand Together Peaceful Protest was held outside Alpena County’s 26th Circuit Court.

The peaceful protest was held to communicate to the Alpena board it must not ignore race, climate change, or discriminate against students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

Alpena resident Heidi Haaxma attended the rally with her son, Seth Golson, who is the president of Alpena Community College Takes Pride.

“I’m here to support the community,” Haaxma said. “I think everyone has a right to feel safe in their environment. I think that this country is so full of systemic hate that it’s just terrible.”

Page designer Alyssa Ochss contributed to this story.

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