Board discusses profanity issue in Copley High School
By Pam Lifke
The Copley-Fairlawn City Schools Board of Education at its Sept. 19 meeting was hoping for a large crowd of students, parents and community members to help identify traits the community hopes to find in its next superintendent of schools.
They got the large crowd — nearly 200 people — but not all of them were there to contribute to a group discussion about how to choose a superintendent.
Many students attended the meeting hoping for a chance to address the board about changes at Copley High School that were intended to mollify a parent who mounted a campaign to eliminate profanity from the school.
Board President Julie Schafer told the audience she and other board members had received many e-mails from parents who did not agree with Wayne Ruman, the parent who complained to the board at its August meeting about profanity at the high school and middle school. Schafer read her e-mail message response that she said should answer most of the questions of audience members.
The message said the board supports the school administration. It is satisfied with its student code of conduct and had no intention to change it. Schafer said Ruman was the only parent who expressed dissatisfaction to her with the way school administrators handle this issue, but she had heard from many other parents who supported the administration.
“I believe that Copley-Fairlawn, a public school, a government school, if you will, is supposed to be representative of a democracy, and democracies are supposed to be representative of the people,” Shafer said. “I believe people send their children to public schools so that they can learn how to live in the real world. We reasonably protect our children and our students, but there are private and parochial schools for those who desire a more restrictive environment for their children. Permitting Mr. Ruman to impose his need for a more restrictive environment on the entire student body to accommodate his level of and need for control is not what the majority of our citizens and parents and staff want, nor is it, in my opinion, something the board would condone.” At the August meeting, Ruman read a prepared statement to the board and challenged it to uphold the student handbook, which states “profanity has no place in the educational setting and is strictly prohibited.” Ruman, who had been discussing this issue with Copley High School Principal William Steffen for much of the 2005-06 school year, told board members that students were exposed to profanity from supplemental video and reading materials used by teachers as well as from commercial radio stations played before school and during class changes. Steffen told the board at the August meeting that he had instituted policies to curb profanity, including one requiring his approval and parental notification and permission before materials containing profanity could be used in the classroom.
Following the August board meeting, Steffen decided to use only a “smooth jazz” station on the school’s public address system.
The students reportedly were unhappy with that change, and rumors started flying. Someone created a video urging students to attend the September board meeting and voice their concerns and posted it on YouTube (www.youtube.com), a Web site for people to watch and share original videos via the Internet. But Steffen reconsidered his decision after listening to the students’ complaints and began the usual rotation of rock, country, oldies and other stations last week before the board meeting
At the Sept. 19 board meeting, Shafer said the issue was a high school building issue and it was Steffen’s decision to make the changes that were made. She then asked anyone who wanted to address the board about that issue to come to the board’s October meeting, since the board had “bigger things to do tonight,” referring to the board’s planned community forum to gather selection criteria for a new superintendent. Superintendent Edward Myracle announced his retirement, effective in January, at the August meeting.
Following Schafer’s statement, board Vice President Theresa Masters took Myracle to task for not informing board members that Ruman would appear at the August meeting and for not providing them with background information about his complaints.
“Last month, I think it was unfortunate that the board was unprepared to be addressed by a parent who came to the board meeting with an issue,” she said. “I think it’s really regrettable that the superintendent didn’t tell us that parent was going to be here.”
She said she thought if the board had known Ruman would appear, they would have been better prepared and been able to express support for the administration. She said she believed Myracle knew Ruman would be at the meeting because Myracle asked Steffen to attend the meeting to respond to Ruman’s statement.
“What I really regret is that for the next three months, I have to sit here knowing that I can’t rely on being informed about things that are going to happen in this district,” she said. “I don’t know that decisions are being made in the best interests of this district, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend that they are.” Some audience members expressed unhappiness with Masters’ criticism of Myracle. One woman who identified herself as a long-time community member said people frequently are put into positions where they are taken by surprise and it took her by surprise that Masters would make such negative comments about Myracle.
“We’re a community here, and we like to see everybody working for the same thing and working in the same direction,” she said, adding the exchange left her knees shaking. The audience applauded her remarks.
Denice Lentine said her children had attended the Copley-Fairlawn district since 1995 and had had good experiences. She said the district is financially sound and has parents and teachers who have “stood out in the rain and snow” to ensure levies pass. She said she thought it was a disgrace for board members to sit in front of television cameras at the meeting and say how dissatisfied they were with the superintendent.
Masters took responsibility for the critical remarks and said she, not the other board members, was upset by Myracle’s failure to inform the board of Ruman’s appearance.
Myracle, who had been silent to this point, told Masters he had not known Ruman would attend the August meeting and had asked Steffen to address another issue he knew would come up.
Lentine said board meetings are the proper place for people to bring up issues like Ruman’s.
“Nobody knows who’s coming tonight and who’s going to address their concerns,” Lentine said. Schafer thanked Lentine for her concern.
“I do have concerns,” Lentine said. “I have concerns about where this school district is headed.”
Schafer said she hoped Lentine would stay to help define selection criteria for the new superintendent and asked that the discussion be ended. The audience again applauded.
Becky Higgins, president of the Copley Teachers Association, asked board members to include a teacher on the search committee for the new superintendent. She said she had spoken to representatives of “other forward-thinking communities” and was told they had included teachers, administrators and community members as well as members of the board of education in their last searches for a superintendent. The board agreed to discuss her request in executive session. After executive session, Schafer said the board had agreed to add a teacher, a student and a member of the classified staff to the search committee for the initial screening and interviewing process.
Also following the executive session, board member Kenneth Calderone announced Masters’ resignation from the board. Masters’ letter said she could no longer serve on the board because of a strong disagreement with the majority of the board on how to resolve current issues in the district.
In other business, the board:
agreed to place the textbook “The Elements of Music Concepts and Applications” on display for public examination in the Board of Education Conference Room;
approved a health insurance contract with Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield for the period Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2007; accepted a donation of a sander valued at $1,133 to Copley High School from the Copley Veterans of Foreign Wars and a donation of $500 to the Copley High School Band from Macy’s;
approved an out-of-state field trip to New York City April 11-15 for the Copley High School marching band and choir;
authorized obtaining liability, fleet and property insurance for one year beginning Sept. 16 from Love Insurance Agency at a cost of $75,903;
hired substitute certified and classified personnel; and
hired coaches for spring sports.
The board’s next regular meeting is Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in the main office conference room at Copley High School, 3797 Ridgewood Road.