SUNBURY — The Big Walnut Board of Education voted during its April 21 meeting to immediately discontinue using a survey service that was free to the district.
“We wanted to let you know that at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting, our Board voted to discontinue the use of Panorama, effective immediately,” the district posted on its website. “As recently communicated, we planned to administer this survey beginning this week to all students in PreK-12, as this opportunity for student input has been valuable for us to continue to improve the climate and culture of our schools. With the Board’s decision, we will no longer be administering this survey to our students.”
Discussion on the survey took place an hour into the six-plus-hour meeting during the acting superintendent’s presentation. The board was told the survey was about to be administered, and the questions about a sense of belonging, student culture and effort, safety and relationship would be used to make improvements. They were told the surveys were purchased with grant funding at no cost to taxpayers.
The surveys were from Panorama Education and used by school districts nationwide. Surveys are downloadable at www.panoramaed.com/surveys.
Board President Doug Crowl said he saw a survey and all five questions “contained issues of racism or race.” He was told that wasn’t the case for Big Walnut.
Board member Sherri Dorsch pulled up the website and read off some survey questions. “It builds a positive environment for our students,” she said. “It’s great that we do this.”
However, board member Angela Graziosi disapproved of the survey provider.
“Schools are overstepping their bounds,” Graziosi said parents have told her. “There are serious concerns about what their children are exposed to in schools that don’t have anything to do with academics. One of my goals is to get our school district laser-focused on academics.”
Citing a Forbes article, Graziosi said Panorama was linked to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who she said had spoken critically about parents speaking at school board meetings.
Graziosi went on to say that the surveys could be used as justification for new curriculum such as critical race theory and social-emotional learning. She said the school district discontinued Panorama last year and added alternative survey tools are available.
She then motioned to immediately discontinue the contract with Panorama and cease the surveys, with an additional motion of a 30-day pause to see if the cessation had any financial or legal repercussions. If there were none, the Panoroma surveys ceased indefinitely.
When told the Panorama contract expired in September, Graziosi modified the motion that parents could opt-in for the spring survey and terminate further Panorama surveys. When told it was too late in the school year to make this modification, Graziosi modified the motion again, this time to discontinue the contract and surveys with Panorama immediately.
“What I don’t want is an outside vendor collecting data on our students,” Graziosi said. “We don’t know if it’s safe or not. These are open-ended questions to kids. National data collection is a concern. I think a lot of parents just don’t know it’s happening. I would like this to be a local, independent, Big Walnut survey if we’re going to do the survey. I do not want our children exposed on a national level to the Panorama company. We have no idea that these are tracked with their emotional well-being.”
Board member Alice Nicks seconded the motion, saying, “Why can’t we do this in-house instead of relying on a grant?”
“Which of our staff has time to do that?” Dorsch said.
Dorsch then proceeded to defend the surveys.
“I think you’d be surprised how many parents actually want their kids to enjoy school,” she said. “It’s just that some parents aren’t threatened by that. And if we’re concerned about data collection, I’m pretty confident that most of our kids are walking around with cell phones…”
Board member Stephen Fujii said that while he agreed with Graziosi’s goal of academic excellence, he felt that the opt-out on the part of 2% of families in the district didn’t warrant stopping the surveys. He said that since the contract expired in the fall and building goals were tied into the survey results, the board could discuss the topic further over the summer.
When the motion language was settled, Fujii asked if the board was limiting the ability for administrators to gather data. Crowl said, “Yes,” and asked Treasurer Jeremy Buskirk to take the vote. The motion passed 3-2, with Dorsch and Fujii voting against the measure.
Earlier in the meeting, FFA students were recognized, along with:
• Rylan Ranalli, Prairie Run Elementary March Student of the Month
• Austin Kreager, Big Walnut Middle School Student of the Month
• Luca Cherubini, Souders Student of the Month
• Mikayla Howell, BWMS Art Student for Month
• Lillianna Priebe, Souders Art Student of the Month
• Big Walnut Middle School Principal Josh Frame had students talk about why they serve in the Builders Club through Kiwanis. “We’re building up the community,” one student said.
The board had previously met briefly on March 23 for a special meeting, going into executive session. The board will have another special meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.