The HPISD Board of Trustees clearly expected a crowd at the Oct. 14 meeting, as it was held at the Armstrong Elementary auditorium instead of the usual McCulloch Intermediate School location.
(Update: HPISD had long scheduled the meeting to be held at Armstrong in honor of the Centennial celebrations.) But even Armstrong’s auditorium didn’t provide enough seats. Prior to the meeting’s start, parents and neighbors were gathered outside the auditorium, spilling into the hallway and lobby, straining for a chance to hear.
The first item of note was an “Ebola update” from Dr. LeeAnn Kridelbaugh, who is a member of the medical-education staff at Cook’s Children’s Medical Center. She briefed the board on Ebola health concerns, and then met in the library with school nurses and a handful of parents with additional questions. Sources have reported that absences at Armstrong have gone up since county judge Clay Jenkins (an Armstrong parent) has been at the front of the Ebola fight — though school nurses have confirmed that there is no reason to panic.
But the real interest came when Highland Park’s board policy on “EFA” or local instruction came up, specifically with reference to the recently
banned temporarily suspended (and then reversed) books in the classroom. Parents both sides of the argument — or rather, from all points on the spectrum — gathered for the briefing, prepared to speak, and handed out topical business cards and buttons.
Bill Banowsky, a partner at Thompson & Knight, briefed the board on the formal “reconsideration” process to be followed. Following additional words from superintendent Dawson Orr and HPHS principal Walter Kelly, parents and community members were able to voice their concerns.
“Like many, my initial thoughts were that the fervor was surely being overdone. Then I read the actual passages,” said University Park resident Steve Smith, who then read passages aloud from an unidentified text. “It is being stated by some that these are taken out of context … in what context is this appropriate?”
Only two students from the high school spoke. Both expressed their trust in teachers to provide appropriate content and steer classroom discussions in an educational and informative direction, even on uncomfortable or controversial topics.
Essentially every possible angle of the discussion was represented through the many speakers, from concerns about the content itself, to transparency questions, to issues with opt-out or alternative lesson planning.
Mass applause often followed each speaker, regardless of which side of the argument they represented.
At roughly 8 p.m., discussion on the matter finally closed. With almost the entire agenda still remaining, the board called for a “five-minute recess” in which most of the audience left.
The item, as presented on the agenda, was discussion only and required no vote.