SUNBURY — A woman involved in a lawsuit with Big Walnut Local Schools returned to finish her comments to the Board of Education at its meeting last week.
During the public comment portion of the board’s Feb. 17 meeting, community member Ashley Ryder directed her comments to specific board members about their positions regarding Syntero, a mental health provider. Board President Doug Crowl, who presided over the meeting, said she couldn’t defame board members and then told her to “Zip it for a minute! Your time is done … You can go sit down!”
Ryder filed the lawsuit on March 7, claiming her First Amendment right to free speech was violated when she was told to stop talking and when her public participation was cut short. The case was filed in the United States District Court Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division.
During the May 19 board meeting, Ryder was the first to speak during the public comments. Her statement is given in full:
“Last time I was here, I tried to address a lie that (board member) Mrs. (Angela) Graziosi told in a February meeting, stating she didn’t want to remove the mental health services offered at Big Walnut. Six months ago, she gave a speech where she said just that. She talked about how the counseling provided by Syntero is overreaching and children come to school to learn, not to get mental health services.
“After getting elected, many concerned parents emailed you the board, worried Syntero would be removed. Rather than saying her feelings on the service had changed, she denied ever wanting to remove it and blamed community members for causing unnecessary panic. I decided to read her word-for-word speech during public participation, but as I read from my prepared speech, I was cut off by Mr. Crowl.
“You violated my First Amendment right to speak freely and bring my grievances to you. As a taxpayer and a parent, I have every right to demand accountability from you, our elected officials. So now that you’ve been placed under a temporary restraining order, now that you’ve agreed to an injunction that you cannot silence me or anyone else or you’ll be in contempt of court, and now that you have to change your public participation policy, I will go ahead and finish my speech from February.
“Mr. Crowl, in every meeting you’ve talked about the lack of civility and say things like this isn’t the community I grew up in, using your few minutes of board member time to complain about the backlash you’ve received. Well, why are we talking? There are many parents like myself who only started paying attention and getting involved because of your actions, your words and the words of those who ran with you and in support of you.
“You originally ran for school board because you didn’t want to raise taxes and build new schools. The two new members (Graziosi and Alice Nicks) ran for school board positions when they had zero involvement in the schools prior.
“School board candidates are usually PTO parents and those heavily involved in the district, not community members who are only running because they don’t trust the people in charge.
“You’re the ones who sent out fliers to everyone in the community that mentioned candidates’ political parties and how we shouldn’t vote for certain ones as if the school board was some sort of powerful political position. Rather than focus on your own strengths as candidates, you sent fliers to everyone in the community with phrases about CRT (critical race theory), liberal ideology, and boys’ and girls’ bathrooms — completely irrelevant, hypothetical what-ifs meant to instill fear.
“Mr. Crowl, you voted no on several legally required Title IX changes that strengthen anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and when told you it could lose federal funding, you said I’m not particularly scared of the federal government.
“Every meeting you do something more newsworthy than the last. You belittle our amazing administration, right in front of us. You encourage parents to question them, our teachers, their curriculum, their motives, their words and even our goals as a district. Can you imagine working at a place where your bosses encourage the customers not to trust you, their employee?
“And now, because of the toxic environment you’ve created, we’re losing the best superintendent (Angela Hamberg) this district has ever had. Sorry, Mr. Mazzi. You don’t understand why you’re receiving so much attention and scrutiny? You poured the gasoline, you lit the match, and now you’re upset the building is on fire.
“Actions dictate consequences, and you’re reaping what you sowed. You keep telling us we need to lower the temperature, but you’re the one that controls the thermostat.”
Ryder finished her comments before the three minutes she was allotted to speak expired. All board members, including Sherri Dorsch and Steve Fujii, were present.
There were two other speakers. One proposed a theme — we partner with parents — for the 2022-2023 school year and ending divisiveness. Another told of her son’s personal experience with bullying at Big Walnut and cited the website stopbullying.gov. She said bullying does not stop after high school.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.