Bellbrook school board discusses political video in hastily called meeting

Staff, parents ask board to support school employees; board won’t discipline curriculum director who was in video

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school officials and community members spoke in support of curriculum director Betsy Gann during a packed emergency school board meeting Tuesday night, one day after Gann was the subject of an undercover video released by a conservative media group,

During the tense school board meeting, members of the board said they wanted to hear Gann’s side of the story. Community members and school staff asked why the meeting was called and demanded the board show support for Gann and school staff. One person who spoke had questions about what the video showed, while the majority of parents who spoke called on the board to support staff.

The video, put out by a group called Accuracy in Media, makes multiple accusations against Bellbrook and Kettering schools, including that they support the teaching of critical race theory. It features hidden-camera interviews with Gann and Kettering Schools Student Services Director Rick Earley. At the end of the video, the group calls for families to send their kids to charter and private schools, rather than public schools.

Audra Dorn, vice president of Bellbrook’s school board, said that the board would not take immediate action against Gann. The board members referred the matter to Doug Cozad, the district’s superintendent, for further investigation.

Dorn said the meeting was called to hear Gann’s side of the story. The entire board could not legally meet with Gann under Ohio public meeting laws without calling a public meeting.

“This board is not on a CRT witch hunt,” Dorn said, referring to critical race theory, an academic theory that says racial bias is baked into everyday life. “This board is not out to say what teachers can or cannot say, to the extent we do have a policy in place about controversial issues.”

She said the board had asked the teacher’s union to meet and discuss updates to that policy, and she said she looked forward to working with people in the room.

Kevin Price, another school board member, called the video “entrapment” and said he sympathized with Gann because he could relate to having words taken out of context.

But he said part of the video did concern him, when Gann seemed to be saying that if critical race theory were outlawed, it could be taught under a different name.

The undercover Accuracy in Media representative asks Gann, “But if they ban it … can’t we just change the labels?” Gann says, “yeah,” and that the district has “always tried to be culturally responsive,” but the edited video doesn’t show the previous comments to know exactly what the “it” that might be banned is.

“For someone in our school district, to say, yes, we can change labels, if that is indeed what she meant, is exceedingly troubling to us as a school district,” Price said.

He said the school district would not go around the law in any way.

But members of the audience seemed frustrated with the response.

Jeff Roush, a Bellbrook parent, called on the board to “send a message” to teachers that the board is behind them.

“Teachers are scared in this district,” he said. “They feel like the board doesn’t support them.”

His remarks were met with applause from teachers and staff in the room. A group of administrators spoke in support of Gann, and school staff members stood up to support her.

Chad Wolf, another parent, criticized that “White Fragility,” a book about structural racism, was mentioned as a teacher resource in the video. He said the board should follow Ohio Board of Education policy that condemned any curriculum for students or teachers that teaches “collective guilt, moral deficiency, or racial bias to a whole race or group of people.”

Gann said in the video the book was discussed among a small group of teachers who chose to read it, and no one was required to read the book.

About the Author