Remark triggers call for ouster

KINDERHOOK–Tuesday night was newly hired Ichabod Crane Superintendent Jason Thomson’s first board meeting, a session that had to be moved from the high school library to the auditorium to accommodate the large audience. The students, parents and staff members attending the meeting were mostly there because of an issue with a student and a board member.

Board President Matthew Nelson read a statement at the beginning of the meeting saying, in part, “It is our goal as District Board members and officers to provide for the well-being of every student and stand up for them each and every day. We would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm that we take this goal very seriously and we in no way condone or support any derogatory statements made about our students.”

He also moved the public comment period to the end of the meeting, saying that he wanted to give audience members time to speak after the board went through its regular business meeting. During the public comment period, Mr. Nelson pointed out that it was “not a Q and A” with the board and asked that the audience be “respectful of other members of the community as they are speaking.”

The issue people wanted to talk about involved comments a board member made about a student. According to a petition on the digital petition website change.org posted about a week ago, “In recent weeks” Board of Education member Jeffrey Ouellette made remarks the petition described as “defamatory, reckless and unfounded” regarding a current Ichabod Crane student in “a public forum.”

The petition goes on to say that “Mr. Ouellette was requested to apologize and resign. After begrudgingly apologizing, he refused to resign. As tax paying community members, we are asking for your help in removing Mr. Ouellette from his position as a BOE member.”

The petition had been digitally signed by 584 people as of press time. The petition does not identify where the remarks were made.

Mr. Ouellette, who attended the Tuesday, February 4 meeting, did not comment during the meeting.

Also attending was the student in question, Trevor Wolfe, along with members of his family, friends, teachers and coaches, many of whom spoke. Trevor said during the meeting that he wanted to make a public statement about the accusations “that are not true” made by a member of the board.

Trevor’s mother, Thérèse Wolfe, said at the meeting that the family had tried to work out the issue in private, saying they had many conversations with the school district, including with lawyers. She also said that all the board members “minus one” and the administration showed the family kindness and respect. She asked that the board member apologize and resign. She was not the only audience member to ask for a resignation.

Trevor is a senior at Ichabod and serves as the alternate to the student representatives on the School Board. Several of his teachers and coaches talked about what a special student he is. Teacher and coach Dan Funk pointed out that a board member should not have made comments about any student and also said “Trevor is someone special.”

Almost all the speakers received applause and standing ovations from the audience.

Mr. Nelson did say that the board had sent Trevor a letter recently saying, “You are the gold standard at Ichabod Crane” and he thanked him for serving as the board student representative.

“This district has faced some serious challenges over the last two years,” Mr. Nelson said. But he stressed the last line of the statement from the board “Let us continue to learn, teach and grow – together.”

Also at the meeting:

• The board appointed Suzanne Guntlow to tenure as assistant superintendent effective July 1. Ms. Guntlow as appointed assistant superintendent last year and then served as acting superintendent for part of last spring. Mr. Nelson said, “We all owe Suzanne a debt of gratitude,” for stepping in to the superintendent position at that time

• The board heard a presentation from Business Manager Michael Brennan about the proposed non-instructional budget for the 2020-21 school year. The board will be discussing the proposed budget figures for the next school year over the next few months before deciding on a final budget proposal in April. The annual public vote on the budget is May 19

• Mr. Nelson announced that the district will be working with Rensselaer County for voting machines during the May budget and school board election vote. He said there were some issues with the Columbia County Board of Elections and the Columbia County machines will not be available

• The board heard from parent Erin Lockmer and a student about increasing the amount of students the district sends to Tech Valley High. Currently the district sends one student a year to the special high school in Albany

• The board also heard a follow-up from Wendee Aglow-Lentz, a parent who brought her concern about students in middle school who play high school sports and the need to get a specific physical to be on the team by one of the school district’s doctors. The district has now made it possible for those students to get physicals from their private physicians. Ms. Aglow-Lentz was still concerned that the district does not have a female doctor on staff.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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