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The Mental Health Grant is Based on Lies
Shockingly, two new board members have let us down
The six-and-a-half-hour school board meeting last Wednesday was a complete train wreck.The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing a $5.7 million federal grant, which is supposedly meant to support “mental health” services at HSE. The administration repeatedly lied during the meeting, and Board President Dawn Lang failed to keep order, which resulted in utter chaos. Two days after this embarrassingly long and chaotic meeting, Ms. Lang issued a statement accepting the grant, about which her voters had expressed significant concerns. She did so without a vote, and her statement contained an additional lie, about which she has refused to comment.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. What are the problems with this grant?
Parent Concerns About the Grant
One concern is that the “mental health” staff at HSE were lying to parents about their own children as recently as August 2021 (see here, here, and here), and the board has neither investigated the depth of this problem nor held anyone accountable for it. They certainly haven’t yet restored trust between parents and the current HSE “mental health” staff, even though restoring trust was a major campaign promise. This grant would expand the very staff who are guilty of deceiving parents.
A second concern is that, if HSE takes the grant, the district will continue to lose focus on academics as it in effect becomes a mental health facility. This, in turn, would plausibly attract transfer students with special needs from across central Indiana. This is a noble cause, but it is sadly one which we are not prepared to handle, as we are currently employing a woke and ineffective replacement for discipline called “restorative practices,” and we face serious discipline problems as a result.
A third concern is that, when this grant money is spent, we will be on the hook for about $1.5 million a year to fund the new “mental health” staff we will have brought on board. Fiscal responsibility was another major campaign promise.
A fourth concern is that the “grant narrative” document provided by the administration includes a promise to “focus on diverse markets” like Indianapolis and Cincinnati in order to “recruit staff of color.” This appears to be a call to engage in race-based hiring practices. Race-based hiring practices are both illegal and racist. This is exactly the sort of racist nonsense that the new board members were elected to stop.
Unfortunately, the administration repeatedly lied to the board on at least two key points related to these issues. Let’s look at these lies.
Lie #1: Parent Consent Always Sought
Throughout the meeting, “Mental Health Coordinator” Brooke Lawson and Superintendent Yvonne Stokes repeatedly told the board that parental consent is always sought for any mental health services.
This is known to be false. As mentioned above, in August 2021, staff at Fall Creek Junior High were instructed to keep secrets from parents about how the school was seeking to facilitate the social gender transition of at least one student. The “gender support plan” document that the district was then using to work out the details of this social gender transition explicitly stated “we can proceed with a plan without parent consent”.
Neither Superintendent Yvonne Stokes nor anyone at HSE has acknowledged that secrets were kept from parents in this case. Instead, they continue to bizarrely act like we don’t know about it, and they continue to repeat the lie that they always seek parent consent, brazenly and sometimes angrily. Dr. Stokes even went so far as to ask for evidence to the contrary, which is jaw-droppingly outrageous given that I have provided the evidence to her repeatedly (again, see here, here, and here).
Until parental trust is restored, it is absurd to suggest that we should add $5.7 million to the district’s “mental health” departments.
Lie #2: No Transfer Students are Allowed
The second lie that administrators repeatedly told in the meeting was that no student from outside of HSE could come to HSE seeking mental health support (short of moving here).
Indiana law begs to differ. According to IC 20-26-11-5, a student’s parents may request a transfer from the district where they reside (the district in which they have “legal settlement”) to any district where “the student may be better accommodated in the public schools of the transferee corporation.”
Obviously this is a major concern about a $5.7 million grant, given that students all over central Indiana will be “better accommodated” in HSE schools when we expand our mental health support with that much money.
But once again, as is typical for HSE administration, they brazenly lied to the board.
After the lengthy discussion of the grant concluded, Board Member Tiffany Pascoe obtained the floor and began to introduce a motion to reject the mental health grant. Immediately, Board Member Sarah Donsbach raised a point of order.
According to Robert’s Rules of Order, if you are a board member, you are allowed to interrupt a speaker at any time and raise a point of order. This means you are claiming that the speaker’s action is against the rules. When someone raises a point of order, the Chair of the session, in this case Board President Dawn Lang, is required to rule on the point of order (to say whether it is correct).
Did this happen? No. Ms. Lang violated Robert’s Rules by failing to rule on the point of order. Instead, she passively ceded control of the situation to Sarah Donsbach and Sarah Parks-Reese, who proceeded to say a bunch of irrelevant stuff and continued advocating for the grant in an unruly fashion. The board did not return to Ms. Pascoe’s motion, which therefore did not go forward, and the board did not vote on the grant.
What should Ms. Lang have ruled on the point of order? The answer is that Ms. Donsbach’s point of order was incorrect. Ms. Pascoe’s motion should have been allowed to go forward, as it was completely lawful under Robert’s Rules (12th edition, sections 4:4 and 10:26). In particular, Ms. Donsbach, despite serving on the board for two years, appears to be ignorant of the rules at an elementary level, and thought, again incorrectly, that it was illegal to make a motion after a mere “information item” such as the grant discussion.
I don’t know whether Ms. Donsbach is really ignorant or whether instead she was operating in bad faith here. Either way, she has embarrassed herself and should apologize to Ms. Pascoe, as should Ms. Lang, who did not know the rules well enough to properly administer the meeting. Additionally, the board should revisit Ms. Pascoe’s motion at the next meeting.
Lie #3: “Strong Support” for the Grant
The meeting ended without settling the issue of the “mental health” grant. Then, on Friday, President Dawn Lang, apparently acting unilaterally and without a board vote, issued a statement, putatively on behalf of the entire board. The statement read, in part, that
we want to voice our strong support for acceptance of this five-year grant.
This is simply false. The board was divided 4-3 on accepting this grant. This is not the board showing “strong support for acceptance” of the grant. Ms. Lang knew this, and she issued the false statement anyway. I reached out to her for comment on this false statement, and she did not respond—a move that reminded me of the previous board members, who we just defeated in a landslide election.
I also asked Board Member Ben Orr whether he regarded the statement as false. (Note: I explicitly told him that his response would be on the record.)
In response, in the fashion of a typical politician, Mr. Orr made the following irrelevant talking points rather than answering my question:
He doesn’t know what the vote would have been
Accepting the grant does not require a vote
He supports accepting the grant
He has read the documents related to the grant several times
He was previously skeptical
He asked every question he could think of
He did not see any red flags
He thinks the grant will support academics
He does not think that HSE is becoming a mental health facility
There will be oversight by Board Members Pascoe and Albright
He understands that his “side” will probably disagree, but he is “ok with that”
He has “held true” to his “promises and values”
He angered the opposition by hiring new lawyers and supporting the new board leadership
He sees angering both sides equally as an indication that he is doing a good job
He hopes I still respect him.
Frustrated with Mr. Orr’s lengthy response, I repeated my question, asking again whether he thinks that 4-3 is strong support. After some time, I asked whether he was going to answer. He said:
I guess not. I’m not sure I’ll get you the answer you want.
He subsequently backpedaled and said he wished to issue no comment and let the “board statement” (i.e., Ms. Lang’s statement) speak for itself. Very disappointing.
Many of us feel a bit lost. We worked hard to elect four new board members, and the last thing we expected was to see two of them come into power and immediately, in the first month, completely fold to the liars in the HSE administration, and begin to spout lies and evasions themselves.
I do not know what comes next. I didn’t expect to write any more blog posts after we won in November. So I’m pretty shocked. My hope is that this post will serve as a reminder to Mr. Orr and Ms. Lang that our side has a voice too, a reminder that we are not afraid to use it. I’m calling on them to repent of these egregious errors, to tell the truth, and to get busy keeping their campaign promises. Our side believes in forgiveness. It’s never too late to fix this mess.
Board President Dawn Lang pedantically wishes to point out that the six-and-a-half hour meeting was officially a work session and a regular board meeting held back-to-back. I do not care how Ms. Lang keeps track of these things in her paperwork. In ordinary English, this was a six-and-a-half hour meeting.