LAKOTA TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The Lakota schools board of education has canceled tonight's scheduled meeting to hold a “community conversation” on the topic of civility in public discussions of school issues.
Lakota district officials announced late afternoon on Friday the public discussion, featuring small and large group discussions open to community members on the topic of “communicating with one another with respect and civility in a divisive time.”
Lakota – and other school board meetings locally and across the nation – have recently seen a rise in contentious school board meetings, with parents and residents sharply criticizing their elected board members on a variety of contentious issues.
Public complaints have generally centered on student masking policies and vaccination requirements during the pandemic, transgender student policies and in some cases – including in Lakota schools – accusations of the alleged teaching of variations of Critical Race Theory (CRT) to students.
At its last meeting on Oct. 11, board members responded by temporarily going into a short recess when Ohio U.S. senatorial candidate Josh Mandel – speaking in violation of the meeting’s designated public comment rules – attempted to voice his opposition to student masks.
Lakota spokeswoman Betsy Fuller described Mandel’s actions as a “staged event meant to disrupt a public meeting.”
When asked by the Journal-News if the cancellation of tonight’s meeting was prompted by Mandel’s appearance and subsequent escort from the meeting by Butler County Sheriff deputies, Fuller said it was not.
“The topic, communicating with respect and civility in a divisive time, was actually suggested during a school board meeting by (member) Lynda O’Connor.
“With the current discourse in our community, our region and even across our state and country, the topic is particularly timely. This is especially true as our students, our kids, are watching how people speak to one another and look to adults in their lives to be role models,” she said.
The community conversation events have been periodically conducted by Lakota officials for years on a variety of topics with a hired facilitator coordinating the discussions held by participants sitting in groups around tables.
The event is at 6:30 p.m. at Lakota Plains Junior School, 5500 Princeton Road, in Liberty Township.
“Monday’s community conversation will kick off the 10th year of this board’s listening program. The board decided to replace the originally scheduled (board meeting) work session with the community conversation because the work session did not have a determined topic and our facilitator was available,” Fuller told the Journal-News.
Unlike the regular, twice-a-month or more Lakota public school board meetings, the district’s community conversation will not be recorded or broadcast live online.
“We do not record our community conversations. Notes will be posted to the (Lakota) website within a few days of the program,” she said.
Lakota officials ask those wanting to attend tonight’s meeting to register on the district’s website to help them better plan the event.
“We strongly encourage all attendees to wear a mask or face covering,” said Fuller.