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Citizens resolve to 'watch' school board

BY Spencer Durham - sdurham@chronicle-tribune.com

A group of concerned citizens will be in attendance at tonight's Marion school board meeting in response to recent controversy regarding one of the board's members.

Cathy Moritz, former president of the school board, came under criticism after she shared a Facebook post expressing support for actress Roseanne Barr, who was under fire for comparing an African American aide for Barack Obama to an ape in a tweet.

Moritz apologized soon afterward and said she was not aware of Barr's tweet. On May 31, Moritz resigned from her position as president of the school board but remained a board member.

“For the integrity of this board and out of love for this community, I am stepping down from my position as president of the Marion Community Schools Board of Trustees," she wrote in an email. "As I have said before, I am sorry for the message that was conveyed.”

Moritz said she will serve out the remainder of her term.

Torri Williams, a concerned citizen with children attending Marion Community Schools, said she plans on going to the school board meeting tonight. Williams said she is hoping to motivate more people to start attending meetings on a regular basis and become more involved in local government.

“I've learned quite a lot by attending meetings I wouldn't normally go to,” she said.

The hope is that by encouraging and getting more people to attend, it will send a message to governing bodies that people are watching and as a result, push for more transparency, Williams explained.

“I don't think our government leaders know how many people are paying attention,” she said.

However, Williams said she would like to see the board review some of its own policies and come out and explicitly state it is against racism and bigotry.

“I think the board as a whole needs to review their policies,” she said, referencing the board's ethics guidelines.

Guidelines state members should be “thinking always in terms of 'children first,'” along with “representing at all times the entire school community,” among a number of other requirements.

“Children first” and “entire school community” is what Williams said was not met with Moritz' support of Barr.

“It does not seem to be in line with board policy whatsoever,” she said.

Andrew Morrell also plans on being attendance tonight. Speaking on behalf of Ministerial Alliance, a group of concerned clergy from local churches, Morrell said there were meetings between Moritz, Superintendent Brad Lindsay, Ministerial Alliance and the NAACP.

Morrell said the first meeting went well, but afterwards there was a “red flag” when other posts from Moritz seemed to suggest a habit of sharing and/or agreeing with controversial subject matter. Morrell said there was a second meeting and would have liked to have seen the school make a public statement.

Morrell said the nature of some of the posts reveal a “mindset” which is problematic for a diverse group of students, such as those at MCS. He explained that when teachers and administrators do not understand their students, especially those who may be different in terms of race and ethnicity, decisions are often made on assumptions.

“When you don't understand the context of people, you only have your worldview,” he said. “When you make decisions for people you don't understand, you're going to mess up.”

“I want people on the board who understand the kids,” Morrell added.

Both Morrell and Williams said they want the board to publicly state it is against racism and bigotry.

“Our desire (is for the board to) … boldly say they don't tolerate racism, they don't tolerate bigotry,” Williams said. “I don't think that's too much to ask for.”

“Can the board say this is wrong?” Morrell added. “That's the question.”

Williams said she hopes having more people in attendance at meetings sends a message to students that they are supported in the community.

MCS did not respond to a request for comment Monday.