According to its website, the core values of Columbia Public Schools are trust, integrity, collaboration, transparency, empathy and grace. Oddly enough, in recent months, school district administrators along with a handful of school board members have failed miserably to exemplify any of the six values to which they claim to ascribe. In fact, CPS Superintendent Brian Yearwood and the lion’s share of his school board members deserve an “F” for their efforts to abide by these core values.
There’s been a lot of hullabaloo, both locally and in national media, over the decision to take CPS students to the annual Columbia Values Diversity breakfast where drag queens performed while members of the Columbia City Council stuffed dollar bills into the fists of these men dressed as women.
By my way of thinking, it’s an odd way to salute the slain civil rights leader. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor, who lived by biblical principles, who likely would not have appreciated this patriarchal characterization of women with big hair and huge breasts by men flaunting around on a stage dressed as females.
But I really don’t care about the drag show. I am, however, troubled by Yearwood’s and the district’s response to the parental concerns that were raised in the aftermath of this event.
If you study the timeline of events, Yearwood’s first response was to deflect blame on the city of Columbia, the official host of the breakfast, claiming the district had no knowledge of the drag show. It’s an odd claim given the fact that CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark and school board member Jeanne Snodgrass were both members of the breakfast planning committee. Under pressure from state Sen. Caleb Rowden, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and even Gov. Mike Parson, Yearwood finally found the decency to publicly apologize for the “misunderstanding” surrounding the drag show.
It’s disappointing that it took more than two weeks for Yearwood to issue his half- hearted and empty public statement that rang so hollow with so many. It was evident that Yearwood’s apology was forced. It lacked sincerity and authenticity. Adding insult to injury, Yearwood failed to specifically mention what policy changes would take place to avoid a similar recurrence.
I doubt that the CPS schoolchildren who were present at the drag show will suffer any long-term dysfunction. The real victims in this fiasco are parents who have children in CPS. Once again, their parental rights and their desire to play an active role in their children’s education have been stripped away by district officials. Most reasonable people agree that parents should have been given the opportunity to decide whether or not their children should be exposed to a drag performance.
The district’s flagrant violation of its own core values of trust, transparency and integrity in this matter is troubling enough. The district’s failure to show empathy and grace (two more of its core values) to a group of outraged parents is the icing on the cake.
I am most troubled, perhaps, by a verified exchange during a meeting with two community leaders in Yearwood’s office with school board member Katherine Sasser present. The two leaders had hoped a meeting with Yearwood would give them a better understanding of the role the district actually played in planning the breakfast. During that meeting, these two highly respected community leaders were accused of being segregationists. Sasser also told them that “the blood of every transsexual student in CPS who committed suicide would be on their hands.”
At the same time, Yearwood found it important to bring up comments about “the way his ancestors had been historically treated by whites.” The implication, of course, is that anyone who questions the superintendent or school board is either racist and/or homophobic.
Yearwood’s relationship with his bosses on the Columbia Board of Education is, at best, complicated. During a recent vote to extend Yearwood’s contract, three board members voted to “abstain” on the question on whether his contract should be extended. Most would argue that voting to “abstain” is the same as voting “no” on the question. If Yearwood has any hope of reaching eligibility for his full pension retirement, he must placate those who were clearly against extending his tenure at CPS. Doing so will likely require him to compromise his personal values, paving the way for a woke agenda that focuses disproportionately on transgender and LGBTQ distractions.
The school board’s latest assault on its own core value of transparency falls on the heels of the district’s hesitation to divulge testing and proficiency scores that have fallen dramatically in recent years. This is the same school board that recently limited the opportunity for public comment at its meetings and tried to prevent parents of special needs students from recording conferences with their children’s teachers.
District patrons will have a chance to replace three of the eight existing board members on April 4. Voters would be wise to do their homework before going to the polls, in hopes of creating a school board that will either hold Yearwood to a higher standard or send him on his way to finish his career at another school district that doesn’t have as much to lose as CPS.
Fred Parry is the founder and publisher emeritus of Inside Columbia magazine.