The Girard Board of Education is learning the hard way that stonewalling parents' concerns about their children's health is an expensive -- and risky -- proposition. Because board members ignored the health problems which arose in the newly constructed middle school and then tried to cover them up, they are now facing two multimillion dollar lawsuits and a recall attempt.
At a Wednesday meeting as board members were forced to hire an expensive Cleveland law firm to defend against the suits, member Rosemary Schmitt said, "I cannot tolerate spending money in a negative way that will not benefit the children of Girard."
Mrs. Schmidt and her colleagues should have thought about that last fall when the reports of illness first surfaced.
Wasted dollars: Even if the school board prevails in the lawsuits, they will have spent thousands of taxpayer dollars in an effort that could have been avoided if they had paid the slightest attention to what parents and teachers were trying to tell them. But even now, when the seriousness of the matter must be obvious to them -- they need only read their own consultant's environmental analysis of the middle school -- the board members are only circling their wagons yet tighter. Board member Jane Harris seems to believe that the court challenges are the work of those "willing to sacrifice the entire school district."
Perhaps she might try to look at the situation from the other side, where parents and teachers believe that then-Superintendent Anthony D'Ambrosio -- now with the Trumbull County Board of Education -- was willing to sacrifice the health of children and teachers to further his own ends.
D'Ambrosio may have served at the pleasure of the board, but the board serves at the pleasure of the voters. And with hundreds of signatures on recall petitions, it's obvious that many parents are finding extreme displeasure in the way the board has handled the situation.
Two years ago when we recommended that Girard voters support a 3.49-mill bond issue to replace the aging Tod Woods Intermediate School with a new facility adjacent to Prospect Elementary School, we said, "A 'yes' vote will assure Girard families an excellent, safe school for their children."
Now it appears that safety has been compromised.
Tell the truth: As children who hide bad report cards from their parents learn, the truth will out. And in most circumstances the penalty for hiding the bad news is worse than the penalty for just telling the truth in the first place. It seems as if the Girard School Board is in the same position.
Instead of shooting the messengers -- like Robert Foley, the intermediate school's principal, and affected parents and teachers -- the board should have listened to what they had to say. Instead of hiding in executive sessions, they should have answered all the concerns openly. As soon as children, teachers and other personnel reported illness, board members should have bent over backwards to find the source of the problem rather than characterizing those who became sick and their parents as troublemakers.
Surely, board members must know that no parents will ignore a threat to their children's well-being. Whatever Girard school district politics may be, they simply have to take a back seat to the health and welfare of those who spend most of their waking hours at school.