The Buckeye Valley Board of Education began its search for a new superintendent and heard numerous public comments during its meeting Wednesday.
The deadline for applications for the superintendent position was April 13, and the board went into executive session Wednesday to review candidates. According to a timeline on the district’s website, the next step will be initial interviews on April 27 and 28 with final interviews taking place May 11. The timeline states the board will then approve the employment of the final candidate May 18 with an estimated start date of Aug. 1, 2022.
The vacancy was formally announced earlier this year after former Superintendent Dr. Andy Miller announced in December 2021 he would be stepping down from the role due to a health diagnosis. Dr. Jeremy Froehlich, the assistant superintendent, has been serving as interim superintendent since Jan. 1.
Some public comments during Wednesday’s meeting were centered on the superintendent search, and other comments were focused on the fallout surrounding an author’s recent visit to Buckeye Valley West Elementary earlier this month. Children’s author Jason Tharp was invited to speak at the school on April 7 but posted online after the event that he was not allowed to discuss his book “It’s Okay to be a Unicorn” during the visit. The story gained national attention.
Froehlich said earlier this month that Tharp was invited to speak because of his positive message to children but said that before the visit, he received concerns from two board members via email.
Some of the emails, which were obtained via a public records request, were read aloud during the public comment period and detail the concerns held by BOE Vice President Donald Dicke and board member Tom Ailabouni.
According to the emails, Ailabouni wrote to Froehlich on April 5 at 9:24 p.m. and said: “We are telling kids that ‘being gay is ok’? Elementary school? My second grader? And wear clothes to create a rainbow? What the devil? Are we out of our minds? Get ready to talk more lawsuits. I’m not for this at all. This is NOT ok. 2nd grade?”
Froehlich responded that he had “no idea” what Ailabouni was talking about and asked for more information. Ailabouni responded to Froehlich with links to various websites discussing the book, and Froehlich said he would look into it.
Tharp has described the book as not being about any LGBTQ themes, and he said the book is about showing kids how to manage feeling different, understanding their emotions, and the importance of self-kindness.
Ailabouni followed up the following morning and said: “At the very least we can say controversial. This is why it is important for the superintendent to hire the right people. I think this will be one of the big points of focus in the following month or two.”
Froehlich responded “Agreed.” A few moments later, Dicke joined the email thread at 8:40 a.m. on April 6 and said: “I think it would be in the best interests of the district to cancel Jason Tharp coming to west. These types of things are exactly what we have been fighting against. Why would we welcome an author who is pushing LGBTQ ideas on our most vulnerable students? Again I would recommend that we cancel. Please advise what decision you’ll be making regarding this.”
Froehlich said he’d keep the two board members posted. Dicke later suggested that Tharp read a different “non controversial book,” and Froehlich said the principal, PTO and librarian were working to see if Tharp had another book he could read, adding, “I’m trying to address your concerns and the PTOs concerns.”
Ailabouni responded a final time at 2:48 p.m. on April 6: “I’m going to guess that by the lack of communication and the abundance of evidence out there that the author will still be speaking at West tomorrow. My children will not be there. This will be brought up at the next board meeting.”
The board held a special meeting on April 8 to hold the first reading of the district’s anti-discrimination policy but much of the meeting was dedicated to public participation as some members of the community expressed their outrage that the book was banned from being read during the visit.
The board will hold its next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 18 at Buckeye Valley High School.