Big Walnut BOE meeting turns heated


SUNBURY — A member of the public who was speaking was told to “zip it” during a recent Big Walnut Board of Education meeting by President Doug Crowl.

Ashley Ryder was the fourth speaker during the public participation of the Feb. 17 meeting, and her topic was the use of Syntero as a mental health provider. She mentioned comments previously made by board members Angela Graziosi and Alice Nicks that were critical of Syntero, but they later reversed their positions.

“Now that you’ve made a complete 180, my question for the board is this: Were you lying to your base to get elected, or are you lying now to the parents?” Ryder said. “Mr. Crowl, in every meeting you’ve talked about the lack of accountability, the keyboard warriors …”

At that point, Crowl hit the gavel and said, “Hold it a minute! When I say stop, I’m the presiding —”

“Right, and I’m addressing you,” Ryder said.

“No, stop!” Crowl said.

“I’m addressing you,” Ryder said.

“And I’m telling you to stop for a second, while I explain something to you!” Crowl said.

“Go ahead,” Ryder said.

“You cannot address or defame any member —” Crowl said.

“I did not,” Ryder said.

“You called us liars!” Crowl said.

“I’m reading the facts!” Ryder said.

“Zip it for a minute!” Crowl said.

“No! Listen, I realize you have a problem with authority or women in power trying to talk over you, but here’s the thing, this is my time, not yours!” Ryder said.

“Your time is done,” Crowl said over Ryder’s objections. “I’m the presiding officer. I’m telling you; you’re done at the podium! You can go sit down!”

“I’ll speak at the next meeting then,” Ryder said.

“That’s fine,” Crowl said, as Ryder walked away. “Now, before we move on, public participation is to explain to us your position, not to make accusations, not to call names. Voice your concern, and then we’ll move on. Any personal attacks, name-calling, I will call out!”

School board meeting agendas state of public participation, “This is a meeting of the Board of Education in public for the purpose of conducting the School District’s business and is not considered a public community meeting. This is a time for public participation during the meeting as indicated in the agenda. (Please reference criteria for Public Participation, which is attached to the agenda.)”

Another speaker said that Syntero helped save a child who was being bullied. Former school board member Allison Fagan spoke on the importance of having mental health services. “Syntero is like none other,” Fagan said. The pandemic’s effects could have a two-year impact on a child’s development, she said.

The mental health/behavioral services link of the Big Walnut website said of Syntero, “The Delaware-Morrow Mental Health & Recovery Services board is partnering with Syntero to provide a full-time clinician in each school district within these two counties. Syntero provides valuable support to at risk school-aged children and adolescents exhibiting behaviors that indicate a need for therapeutic interventions and prevention services. The specialized school-based team provides services designed to strengthen resiliency and coping skills, decrease disruptive behaviors, provide prevention and support for at risk students and increase classroom success. Syntero does not provide any additional services, including sex education, to our students.”

Out of 17 items on the Feb. 17 agenda, public participation was number 12, just over an hour into the two-hour-plus meeting. Ten people total spoke, and the board voted to extend the speaking time to more than the allotted 30 minutes.

Lad Dilgard spoke regarding a curriculum review committee made up of parents and the instruction of “American pride” and capitalism. Tom Andrews said he approved of a community relations committee so people could receive answers to questions brought up during public comment portions. One speaker said she was sad to see where this district was heading, with no structure, control or morals being taught. Another person, a teacher, said she felt there was transparency among the administration and said that critical race theory was not being taught in the schools. Another person asked the board to consider diversity in learning resources. Former school board member Barb Shelby spoke against forming an employee relations committee.

Former Superintendent Steve Mazzi was the final speaker, and he said he’s concerned about “pillow talk” and access between the community and school board members, citing as an example the moment of silence request at board meetings. He said he personally didn’t care whether there was a moment of silence or not, but he felt this was being done simply to “check a box” and that a constituent knew ahead of time about it being implemented.

Mazzi went over his allotted time, but he continued speaking as he was repeatedly told “time!” and the gavel was pounded. “I came that close to gaveling you out for making accusations against me,” Crowl said to Mazzi. “I’m the one who put the moment of silence on the agenda,” Crowl said.

From the audience, Mazzi said, “If you want to get into a debate publicly, that’s fine with me.”

“No, I’m not going to,” Crowl said.

Treasurer Jeremy Buskirk reminded them that public participation is not a back-and-forth.

“But I will not put up with accusations,” Crowl said. “I put up with it last week (Feb. 10)! If you have a problem, then file a case with the Ohio Ethics Commission. There is no evidence. Moving on …”

The beginning of the Feb. 17 meeting referenced Feb. 10 as well.

“I’d like to call the meeting to order and do a little explaining,” Crowl said at the start of the Feb. 17 meeting. “At the last meeting, I had incorporated a moment of silence prior to the pledge (of allegiance), and I’m accustomed to that because we do it at every meeting at the (Kingston) township level, but some people wanted me to explain the etiquette for it. You can stand, you can sit. If you stand, you’ll be prepared for the pledge, which immediately comes after the moment of silence. So, with that let’s have a moment of silence for personal reflection, followed by the pledge.”

Most in attendance stood.

Present at the meeting were board members Crowl, Sherri Dorsch, Nicks and student board representative Savannah Smith. Absent were Steve Fujii and Graziosi.

Also during the Feb. 17 meeting, the board approved the retirement of District Testing/College and Career Readiness Coordinator Penny Sturtevant, effective at the end of the school year.

Editor’s note: A lawsuit has been brought against Big Walnut Local Schools by Ryder over the incident that took place during the Feb. 17 meeting. A story on the lawsuit will appear in the March 23 edition.

By Gary Budzak

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Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.

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