The Marathon Central School District Board of Education (BOE) met on Oct. 5 in the school library, where additional chairs had to be retrieved to accommodate members of the public who were in attendance. The board heard from the public, heard about the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, and heard a presentation by the district’s law firm, Ferrara Fiorenza PC.
The next BOE meeting will be held at 7p.m. Nov. 2.
The packed house foreshadowed the public comment portion of the meeting which would use every moment of its allotted time. Several parents and teachers spoke about their recent experiences.
Two parents spoke about concerns they have over the district’s “Second Step” Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum. New York State guidelines have mandated that schools include SEL since 2018, but parents are voicing that this year feels different.
Rachel Parker explained to the board that her daughter was unhappy to have an SEL lesson take the place of recess as part of her 6-day rotating schedule. Parker was particularly concerned with not having access to a detailed scope and sequence of the Second Step curriculum, stating she had questions about the “Transformative SEL” but that the lessons and videos, “can only be viewed at the school, under the guidance of an administrator.”
Hillary Hartman echoed concerns over the content,
“I have found the material to be extremely controversial, concerning, and disturbing,” she said.
Hartman went on to state that the SEL website encourages children to seek the help of teachers and community members prior to reaching out to parents and family members, and covers topics such as gender ideology.
“It is not for the State of New York to teach my children what is morally acceptable,” Hartman stated. She has requested that her children not participate in the SEL lessons, citing New York State Education Law 3204 and claiming that “they violate [her] religious and parental rights.”
Another topic was “transgender use” of the bathroom and locker facilities, particularly for those students who are still “presenting” as their assigned gender using the facilities that align with their gender identity.
Tonya Krissner explained that she was speaking “for the children who feel like they do not have a voice…they’re feeling very very uncomfortable” and wanting to know “what the school is doing to accommodate the children who are feeling very uncomfortable undressing in front of somebody that is still of their (assigned) gender.”
Another parent who did not identify herself used her time to recommend that the board make a social media post to address the changing room topic, as well as bullying, stating that it had been reassuring to know the board’s policies and that they are simply following New York State guidelines.
Kerry Newkirk identified herself as a parent of 4, teacher, coach, vice president of the Teacher’s Union, and a member of the community. Newkirk explained that she “grew up here and chose to stay here,” and asked that everyone present “remember as a community, board, school, we are in the business of teaching” and that “anger fuels fire, hatred fuels fire. We are not an angry community, we are a community of people that face problems, we have to work together to solve them.”
The BOE then heard from the Future Farmers of America, with Crystal Aukema presenting on the club’s activities. The Marathon FFA participated in the Cortland County, Broome County, and State Fairs, as well as hosting their own Agricultural Fair in front of the school. The club furthered their involvement with the community by performing a village cleanup. FFA members were able to participate in programs such as USDA AgDiscovery and the Appalachian Teaching Project, with Sam Castelott visiting the University of Virgin Islands and Chris Baez traveling to East Tennessee State University.
Student ex-officio member Audrey Jasper was unable to attend the meeting due to participating in a soccer game (which Marathon went on to win), but dutifully provided her report “Through a Student’s Eyes” to be read during the meeting. In it, she explained that fall sports are going well and the Open House and Ag Fair were both a great time. Students are very excited to have access to the vending machine all day, as it had previously only been on during after school hours.
The only concern currently being expressed by students is that the food in the cafeteria is sometimes not thoroughly cooked. Superintendent William Locke responded that the students had been heard, and a survey has been prepared to be distributed to them in order to address the food issues more acutely.
Chatter on Committees
Several committees include members of the community or are open for public observation, including the Security Committee, which recently resulted in what BOE member Charles Forkey called “unfortunate public chatter online.” Forkey went on to put down any rumors that “putting bars on windows” had been a security option.
There was indeed a concern about outside access through propped doors or open windows on the first floor, but it was determined that windows could be retrofitted to only open so far, or secured with screens. An additional option is a window film to obscure activities inside.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the BOE heard from Charles Symons of Ferrara Fiorenza, P.C., who presented current legal issues in education. Topics ranged from transportation to rights of district employees when it comes to expressing milk or taking leave for the Covid vaccine. The presentation helps the board to stay informed on current legal issues and trends, such as the new requirement for posters identifying possible symptoms of cardiac arrest in students.