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Without freedom of speech, we’re like sheep led to slaughter

I have always heard good things about the way the meetings of the North Harrison Community School Corp. were held. Unlike their other Harrison County counterparts, North Harrison always seemed open and ready to respond to the community.
So, I was actually somewhat surprised by their actions during their last meeting. I expected that their new superintendent, Dr. Phil Partenheimer, would want to run things similar to the way he did at Lanesville schools.
I didn’t, however, expect that the North Harrison trustees would agree with him.
While I respectfully agree that they have the right to hold their meetings in any way they see fit, the trustees are still elected officials and the schools they preside over are still public schools paid for with taxpayers’ money. I will never agree with censorship or limiting speech.
Granted, a school board meeting is small in the whole scheme of things. But, even at the smallest level, I think limiting discussion is wrong and preventing those from saying something to the people they elected is even worse.
That said, North Harrison even moved public comments to the beginning of the meeting, keeping the public from commenting near the conclusion of the meeting on any action they take during the meeting. I wonder what could possibly be said that the five school board members and Partenheimer wouldn’t want to hear.
I do agree with the fact that there is a proper chain of command for problems and issues. However, I believe the school board is forgetting that the taxpayers and the parents of North Harrison students should be at the top of that chain. They should be able to hold the board members accountable for their actions at any time, not just after they’ve followed proper protocol.
North Harrison, like Lanesville was, is in the midst of a contract dispute with its teachers. I would hope they would want to keep the lines of communication open instead of breaking them. Not only are they preventing parents and the public from having their say, but they are preventing the teachers from providing feedback as well.
I also wonder what this is teaching the students in the county’s schools. Are we teaching them that it’s OK to speak up, but only if it’s on the agenda and only after you’ve followed the proper procedures? Schools are in the business of teaching students and, as members of the school, the trustees should be in that business, too.
In a story in last week’s Corydon Democrat, Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor reported that Partenheimer said the reason for limiting comments was to expedite meetings. However, no examples were given by Partenheimer, who was acting in his new position at his first meeting, to show that meetings had previously gotten out of hand or any examples that they had even experienced lengthy meetings. It seems North Harrison is reacting before anything occurs.
I sat through months of Lanesville’s school board meetings and, yes, making this change did expedite the meetings. However, the problem with that is, in the months of meetings I covered, hardly anyone but Partenheimer and the board spoke.
Greg Rupp, a North Harrison teacher and president of the Classroom Teachers Association, was quoted to have said during the last meeting ‘this board meeting used to have the most openly discussed agenda in Harrison County.’ Rupp is correct.
Lanesville, for almost a year, has limited public comments in the same way that North Harrison has now adopted. South Harrison has one of the vaguest agendas of the three school Harrison County school corporations, and I have even watched the South Harrison school trustees vote on teaching and staff positions without telling the public the name of the person or persons recommended.
North Harrison has now reduced themselves to the same. I wonder what other changes they will make, and I wonder if this action will help the board or further distance them from the public and teachers.
As George Washington said, ‘If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.’
I just hope we won’t let ourselves be led.