Three parents criticized a book and TEDx Talk they said was being taught in 10th-grade English classes during the visitors comments portion of Thursday’s Homer-Center School District board of directors meeting.
James Cutshall, one of the parents, claimed the TEDx Talk “How Embracing Tolerance has Failed Us” by Dr. Kristen Donnelly and the book “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely promoted “anti-police ... anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-nuclear family and anti-white male” agendas.
“We are taking that issue very seriously,” said board member Michael Schmidt. “We are not brushing anybody off by any means. There are issues that we need to address like racism, and there are valid educational points. The question before us is ‘are there better materials that can be used to accomplish that goal?’ ... We as a board realize that we’ve already had some very productive discussion about it, and we’re going to keep working on it, and we will give them an answer.”
In Superintendent Curtis Whitesel’s closing statements, as Thursday was his last regular meeting, he said he had full faith the board will make the right decision and do what’s best for the students.
“This little blip that we had with the parents, we’ll get through it,” Whitesel said. “We’ll do what’s right by kids, because we always do what’s right by kids. So, there will be discussions, and the best outcome will happen. I have no doubt.”
And in a teary and heartfelt exchange Thursday, Whitesel gave a final goodbye to the board and school district.
Whitesel, the former Mount Union Area School District principal who assumed the role of Homer-Center superintendent in October 2019, is leaving the district to take on a new superintendent position at Bald Eagle Area School District in Centre County and to take care of family. The board approved his resignation during its regular voting meeting in August.
“I want to give one final farewell to Mr. Whitesel,” said board member Daniel Fabin. “In our last voting meeting, we did a round-robin and shared a lot of stories and such, but I’ll keep it simple. Thank you again.”
During the regular voting meeting in August, board members shared heartfelt exchanges with Whitesel and wished him well in his new position. And although Fabin wanted to keep his message short, board members chimed in again, one after the other, wishing Whitesel the best and sharing their stories about how Whitesel impacted their lives and the district.
“You were the perfect prescription at the time to get us through the last few years,” said board member Gerald Bertig. “We didn’t want (you to leave) this soon, but we understand the reasons. It’s been a pleasure having you here under your leadership. ... You’re just an ideal individual to work with, and we’ll remember you fondly, and we’ll certainly hope to see you on occasion in the future, and we wish you the best in your new position.”
Board president Michael Bertig closed off board comments while holding back tears.
“I’ll wrap up by saying Curt, I certainly appreciate your time here at the district,” Michael Bertig said. “You’ve been a calm and steady hand, as my dad said. Always so patient, even when things get heated. And that’s a virtue of yours, how patient you are and how understanding you are of the various issues that go on in this district.
“You’ve become a friend of mine. I really, really from the bottom of my heart thank you for everything you’ve done for the school district, and I wish you nothing but the best at the Bald Eagle.”
Whitesel was also struggling to hold back tears as he thanked the board members, administrators, teachers, support staff, professional staff, school district and community.
“It is emotional for me,” Whitesel said. “You gave me a chance. I think I served you well. ... I value this place, the generosity that’s been given to me, the friendships I’ve turned and created and made. I can guarantee you I will stop through this place every time I’m headed to the western part of the state.”
The board joked, laughed and cried together as Whitesel spoke to each member about how they individually impacted his life and the district.
“Thank you, Homer City community, Center Township community, Homer-Center School District,” Whitesel said. “In a whole, you are fantastic people. ... I thank you, I thank you, I thank you. Goodbye.”
Also Thursday, Eden Gutierrez, grade 11, and Chase Shoup, grade 6, received the Wildcat Recognition Award. Gutierrez was not present to receive the award. Homer-Center elementary PE teacher Scott Bauer presented the award to Shoup.
“I think it maybe took about 30 seconds, less than a minute, for us to collectively nominate this fine young man for this award,” Bauer said. “Chase is just one of those fine young men you enjoy teaching. He’s polite, he’s courteous, he’s well-mannered. When we talk about our ROAR rules — responsibility, ownership, attitude and respect — he just exudes those throughout his day.”
Schmidt presented the Kiwanis Senior of the Month award to Cameron Cavalier for his exceptional “dedication in athletics and academics.”
Cavalier said his next goal is to attend a four-year college to study cartoon animation.
“I just watched TV shows whenever I was a kid, and I loved them,” Cavalier said, “and it would be cool to make them.”
Board members passed a number of motions during Thursday’s meeting, also, including:
• Approving Care Solace Mental Health Program at the cost of $7,500 per year
• Approving Mrs. Lauren Yackubosky as a volunteer cross-country coach for the 2022-23 season
• Approving Kenneth Riley, Amber Stewart, Amanda Johnson and Skyler Branton as substitutes for the 2022-23 school year
• Approving Vanessa Dickson, Patrick Shipley, Lauren Dumm, Carley Gray, Abigail Kubasky and Whitney Lowe as ARIN guest teachers
• Approving Cindy Scott as the elementary’s HCAC liaison for $500 in extra pay
• Approving Christine Yurky as the senior class adviser for $2,744.74 in extra pay
• Approving Tammy Buffone and Cindy Scott to attend the Integrated Learning Conference at Penn State from Nov. 2-4 at a cost of $740 and two substitutes for three days
• Approving Tammy Buffone and Steven Hall to attend SAP training in Kittanning from Sept. 19-21 at a cost of two substitutes for three days
• Approving Brianne Major to attend the ARIN IU 28 Math Teachers Network at ARIN IU 28 Oct. 5; Dec. 15; Feb. 22; and May 24 at a cost of one substitute for four days
• Approving Carly Janik, Deanne Magolis and Laura Goodnack to attend ARIN IU 28 PIIC meetings Sept. 27; Oct. 25; Dec. 13; Jan. 24; Feb. 28; March 28; and May 23 at a cost of three substitutes for seven days
• Approving Amber King as a bus driver for the 2022-23 school year
• Accepting the proposed by-laws of the Homer-Center Swim Team and recognizing the Homer-Center Swim Team Parent Organization as an official booster organization for the Homer-Center Swim program
• Approving Lisa Mazey as a substitute school nurse for the 2022-23 school year
• Approving Christine Yurky and students to attend Quiz Bowl on Oct. 25 at United School District at a cost of is one substitute for one day
• Approving Tony Buffone, Dave King and students to attend the Enviro Quest at Jennings Nature on Oct. 14 at a cost of two substitutes for one day
• Approving Alexis Newhouse and Jordan Penrose as substitute teachers for the 2022-23 school year