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Lakota parents ask board to prioritize inclusion after superintendent's resignation

Zack Carreon
Lakota parent Benjamin McCall speaks during public comment at Monday's school board meeting

Public comment got heated at Monday's Lakota Local School District board meeting after Superintendent Matt Miller announced his resignation last week.

In a letter addressed to the school board, Miller said he made the decision to resign because of a hostile work environment created by board member Darbi Boddy in response to his efforts to be inclusive of all students. Miller said Boddy intended to destroy his career with false accusations and harassment, which he says resulted in multiple death threats.

District officials launched an investigation and found the claims against him to be unfounded.

Ahead of Miller's final day on January 31, the board appointed Assistant Superintendent Robb Vogelmann as Interim Superintendent.

Zack Carreon
Interim Superintendent Robb Vogelmann

Parents parents crowded the board meeting Monday to share their thoughts on the situation. Many showed support for Miller and condemned the accusations, while a smaller group spoke out against Miller and repeated the claims against him.

Parents like Benjamin McCall say opposition to the district's diversity and inclusion efforts expressed by some members of the board are disturbing. McCall says the Lakota Local School District has not always been inclusive for students of color and even though the district launched a department to focus on diversity years ago, he worries the school system will regress under new leadership.

"There's definitely people who did not feel a part of the community, did not feel served by the community," McCall said. "My kids were in the district initially, then they were out, now they're back in, but we always planned on bringing them back to Lakota. It's just that at the time some of the praised teachers that are retiring now, that people loved and cherished, weren't that great to kids that didn't look like the traditional Caucasian person that lived within the district."

McCall and others urged the board to continue to promote diversity and inclusion despite the opposition. A number of parents say multiple board members have been vocal about wanting to stop discussions about race from happening in the classroom by labeling it Critical Race Theory, which is causing more harm than good.

"I think the focus has turned to politics," Lakota parent and teacher Josephine Cataudella said. "What I do in the classroom and what I teach children is the most important and critical thing that I can do. And for anybody to say outlandish things that I do in the classroom, come visit my classroom, come see what I do. I do not teach what they say I teach."

Board President Lynda O'Connor paused public comment at one point to get control over the unruly crowd.

"I hope that we can change the tenor of our meetings, the tenor of our public comments, the tenor of our work together; and I hope that we will make a dedication to do that on behalf of our kids," O'Connor said. "We have work to do — lets focus on the real work and not on our difference."

Newly-appointed interim superintendent Vogelmann asked parents and board members in the room to move past their differences and refocus on academics.

"Hopefully we can move forward with some things and bring some calmness and get back to educating kids and take away from the high tension that's in the room at times, so we can get back to the business you guys need to do," Vogelmann said.

Zack Carreon earned his bachelor's degree in media production from Bowling Green State University. Before joining Cincinnati Public Radio, he was a content editor and photojournalist at WTOL 11 News in Toledo. Zack enjoys long hikes, collecting vinyl records, and watching his hometown team the Cleveland Browns.