Concerned parents, teachers and union members pack Lee’s Summit school board meeting

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- It was standing room only at the Lee's Summit School Board meeting Thursday night.

More than a dozen moms, dads, teachers and union members say they wanted School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter and the seven member board to hear their many concerns.

Some say for months morale among teachers has been low and racial tensions have been running high in the Lee's Summit School District.

A number of people say Carpenter is a big part of the problem since he became Superintendent nearly two years ago.

Carpenter recently came under fire after a photo of him making an offensive gesture with his finger while at a college tailgate party in Atlanta last November surfaced on social media in January.

Carpenter issued a statement which stated in part "as the leader I care deeply about representing our district and community responsibly." The school board supported him.

In a statement, Board President Phyllis Balagna said, " We are sensitive to the fact that we are all human beings, that no one is perfect, and we must learn to have productive dialogue together."

FOX4 has also reported that Dr. Carpenter and the school district  face a lawsuit filed by Dr. Amy Gates, the district's Director of Technology.  The lawsuit accuses Carpenter of "violating school policies when he allegedly argued against hiring a black woman for a public relations director position.

"Either way, the perception of our community, be those on the outside and the morale of the people inside, is important, and serious work must be done to repair both," teacher, Paul Hawkins said Thursday.

"As the board, you have the responsibility to help correct the negative, media portrayal of our staff and community as racists. We need you to help rebuild trust so teachers do not feel retaliation if they express an honest, but different perspective," said Heather Crain, the Interim President of the Lee's Summit National Education Association.

A number of parents also said they support Dr. Carpenter as the school district's Superintendent and are in favor of his proposed Equity Plan, which is still being discussed. The parents also say they'd like to see the school board members extend Carpenter's three-year contract.

Meantime, several African American parents also told the board about specific "disturbing, racist incidents their children have experienced" while being in the Lee's Summit School District.

Marchel Alverson was one of those parents.

Alverson said earlier this week her 17-year-old son, who's black and a junior at Lee's Summit West, was in class when "a white student called him a racist, derogatory name."

"My son then called the boy a word that I will not repeat. My son is an honor student, he runs track and he's never had any problems like this before. He's a good kid. I contacted the school's vice-principal who told me the situation was being addressed. Well, on Thursday my son was placed in detention for four hours and to my knowledge, the white student wasn't disciplined and is still going to class. I do not think the vice-principal handled it correctly, and, that's why I will be meeting with the school's principal next week," said a disappointed Alverson.

FOX has reached out to Lee's Summit School District for a comment regarding Alverson's allegations. A spokesperson gave this comment:

"We acknowledge the sentiments shared with us and we are working with the family personally. We want to be sensitive to this experience and together we must continue our learning to support our students, families and staff."

There had been much speculation that the school board would discuss or possibly vote on whether it would extend Dr. Dennis Carpenter's three-year contract. That issue did not come up while FOX 4 was at the meeting.

Carpenter is currently in his second year.

The Lee's Summit Teachers Union has urged the school board to not extend Carpenter's contract.

On Friday, Dr. Alethea Rollins, who's a member of the Suburban Equity Task Force and a parent of two children in the Lee's Summit School District sent FOX 4 a letter which read in part:

"This is a multifaceted issue with many viewpoints. This discussion has been ongoing for many months and some of the rhetoric has been untrue and has stirred up a lot of ugliness, misconceptions, and mis-information. However, some believe this exposure is part of the healing process, and is necessary for LSR7 to be able to do the work of helping every child succeed.

"We are in full support of Dr. Carpenter, the LSR7 leadership team and the equity plan, which was recently approved by the LSR7 BOE. The LSR7 achievement gaps and equity plans to address them are not about individual racism. They are about much needed professional development, understanding of and addressing bias, and implementation of equitable programming and curricular practices -- all of which include many sub-groups, of which race is only one. We will continue to support this work and will continue our engagement throughout this process."

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