Metro Roundup: Vestavia Hills city councilor denies playing ‘political games’ with school board

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A Vestavia Hills city councilor this week faced charges and questions over whether she was using members of the city’s school board to play “political games”.

“We had confirmation this week that each of you who are here is here because of your political views,” Katie Roach Dudley told the Vestavia Hills Education Council at its September 27 meeting. “You are being used as pawns in someone’s political game.”

The “someone” Dudley was referring to is Vestavia Hills City Councilor Kimberly Cook, whose husband, Greg Cook, is a candidate for the Alabama Supreme Court. Last week, Greg Cook appeared in an interview with Steve Flowers, and the video toured social media and Greg Cook’s Facebook page.

In the video, Cook begins to talk about Kimberly and her two successful candidatures for Vestavia Hills city council.

“She is in her second term and decided to run for city council because she wanted to make sure our school board was conservative,” said Greg Cook. “Now we have five conservative school board members in Vestavia. “

At Monday’s board meeting, Robert De Buys cited the video, although he did not name Cook, and questioned whether Greg Cook’s brand of “conservatism” was what made it happen. leads the board to rescind his mask mandate and reject medical recommendations given by entities such as UAB Hospital and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“One Alabama Supreme Court candidate bragged about his wife appointing ‘conservatives,’” De Buys said. “Are we who we are?” Is this the conservatism that the candidate for office was talking about?

The city council and the board of education are non-partisan government entities.

THE COOK ANSWERS

Kimberly Cook, first elected in 2016, did not speak at the school board meeting but spoke to Vestavia Voice on September 28 about the controversy.

“I don’t ask people their political party,” Cook said of the candidates for the board of directors.

Cook said she is just one of five board members, all of whom must vote for a board nominee before he or she is appointed to the board. Although Cook, as the education liaison, coordinates interviews with board candidates and generally makes an appointment at board meetings, she does not have the sole discretion to select board members. and has, at least once in the past three years, had two of its candidates not selected for the board.

Cook said it’s no secret that she herself is a supporter. She and her husband are active in the state’s GOP events and she speaks candidly about her politics, but she said it makes no difference when interviewing or appointing potential school board members.

Vestavia Hills Education Council Chairman Steve Bendall said he would comment on agenda items but not comment on comments made by residents.

Cook said the Board of Education is not a partisan group. “They are just trying to provide the best education possible,” she said.

City council does not have the power to tell council what to do and does not control the council, Cook said.

While Kimberly Cook plays a non-partisan role, her husband is running as the Republican candidate to replace retired Alabama Supreme Court Judge Mike Bolin. However, Kimberly Cook said her husband is not speaking for her, or for Vestavia Hills City Council or Vestavia Hills School Board.

“He believes, and I share this belief, that our schools should share the values ​​of our community,” Cook said. “He could call him conservative. I will not do it.

Cook said she would not characterize the community’s values ​​as “conservative,” given how loaded the word is in such a tense and partisan era. Cook said she echoed the community values ​​expressed in the school system’s strategic plan and mission statement, which include, among other standards, providing a “safe and nurturing environment, the courage to be creative “and” unprecedented community support “.

Although she can be active in national and national politics, Cook said her political leanings do not affect what she does locally.

“I never hesitate to speak with anyone who wants to speak to me in a civil manner about our city,” Cook said. “It doesn’t matter that I’m a Republican. It doesn’t affect what I do locally.

Before running for city council, Cook unsuccessfully applied for a nomination to the Board of Education four times, and after being rejected, told the council she intended to run for their jobs, what Greg Cook referenced in his interview and Kimberly confirmed in an interview with a Vestvia Voice reporter.

Cook said she made the decision to run for city council primarily because she wanted more open communications, analysis and better planning from the school board.

“I ran for city council because I was frustrated; I didn’t think the Board of Education was leading in the right direction, ”Cook said. “I care deeply about our schools. I still do. This is why I am the liaison officer.

Cook said she was “very proud” of the Vestavia school board members and that she had “faith in our [the City Council’s] to treat.”

Vestavia Hills City Communications Director Cinnamon McCulley made the following statement to Vestavia Voice:

“The process of appointing a member to any board, including the Board of Education, begins with the submission of a standardized nomination, followed by interviews with the nominees that are conducted in a session. of public work. The council then votes in a public meeting to select the council member it deems most qualified to represent the interests of the residents of Vestavia Hills. Each member of our five-person board has one vote, and the final selection is a majority vote – no vote of one board member trumps another. “

THE DEBATE ON MASKS CONTINUES

Following the waiver of the mask mandate by Vestavia Hills Superintendent Todd Freeman on September 20 and the return to “optional mask” status within schools in the town of Vestavia Hills, people on both sides of the debate showed up on Monday evening to share their views with the board.

“We’re going to keep coming back to the same place,” Dudley said. “You continue to deceptively change the game on our children.”

During the meeting, Freeman reported that there were 16 students at home with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 on September 24, while 23 were at home due to close contact. These numbers represent a drop from September 17, the last day masks were required in schools, a day in which 26 students were home with a positive test and 25 students were home due to close contact. Sixteen students represent around 0.2% of the student body. The number of positive cases declined every Friday from September 3, as did the number of home students due to close contact.

Some parents have said the drop in numbers means masks should remain optional.

“In my opinion, hiding healthy children teaches them that being in a perpetual state of fear of potential illness is not just okay; it’s the thing to do with love, ”said Johanna Cosby.

Monica Carroll noted that as of the end of September, no “super spreading” events had occurred due to the massive, fan-filled college football stadiums, many of whom do not require masks. If these events do not spread the virus, neither will a class of 25 students, she said.

Jen Vachris told those pleading for a mask warrant they should be “ashamed” of themselves.

“You have absolutely no idea what these kids are going through,” Vachris said, noting instances where students with special needs or unique medical needs have bad reactions to masks.

“You should be ashamed of bringing in doctors who don’t even live in Vestavia,” she said. “If masks work so well, shouldn’t all of us who don’t wear masks be dead by now?”

Richard Sturgeon said that while he was learning as a Vestavia student to value expertise, the board now rejects medical experts.

“They [the experts] you begged to follow the recommendations and you refused, ”Sturgeon said. “Your decisions should not go unchallenged. … You send the message that expertise doesn’t matter. “

Sturgeon said the board “puts aside” respect for others when it is “awkward,” and said that while there are those who think the choice to wear a mask is up to a parent or to an individual, the risk of not wearing it is assumed by more than that individual.

“As we seek to properly consider freedom, we shouldn’t forget about life,” Sturgeon said.

Freeman also told the board that the system is considering participating in UAB’s Sentinel testing program, which offers testing for COVID-19 in schools for students and staff. The tests, which are said to be voluntary, are for students or asymptomatic staff, Freeman said.

The school system may also have an immunization clinic through the Jefferson County Department of Health, Freeman said. Vaccines for students under 18 require parental permission.

OTHER BUSINESS OF THE COUNCIL

The school board also heard a report from Patrick Martin, deputy superintendent of operations and services at Vestavia, on the new school system strategic plan for his sports department.

The plan has several focus areas that include different action items, Martin said.

The first area of ​​interest is “academic and athletic excellence, personal development and the well-being of student-athletes and students”. Some of the priorities include developing consistent academic standards and expectations across all sports, developing opportunities for students to get involved in sport by supporting professional staff and providing life skills resources to students. -athletes.

The second priority area relates to facilities, which have prioritized the creation of a facility master plan to meet the needs, exploring the use of new technologies and innovations specific to facilities and equipment and setting consistent expectations. for the maintenance of the installations.

Other priority areas include funding and external support; gender equity, diversity and inclusion; school and community engagement, marketing, support and collaboration; staffing, leadership and professional development of staff.


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