Written by Meryl Johnson
I am an elected member of Ohio’s State Board of Education, District 11 (representing parts of Northern Cuyahoga and Lake Counties), and a retired 40-year Cleveland teacher.
I have a special request for the Cleveland community. Please write a letter to Governor Michael DeWine!
Here is the issue.
The Ohio Board of Education has 19 members — 11 elected by voters and eight appointed by the governor.
In July 2020, a resolution supporting equity and condemning hate and racism, written in response to the murder of George Floyd, passed 12-5 with one abstention.
The appointed members helped make the victory possible. You can read the original resolution here: www.honestyforohioeducation.info/sboe-res.html.
Some new members were elected in November 2020. New member Brendan Shea of District 10 led an effort to rescind the original resolution.
On October 13, after a four-hour debate, the Board rescinded the original resolution 10-7, with two members absent. Appointed members were threatened by some legislators that if they didn’t vote to rescind the equity resolution, they would be kicked off the Board.
Five appointed members were present for the vote: three voted to rescind, but two voted against it. Those two were forced to resign, including Board President Laura Kohler, who said that Governor DeWine had asked her to resign.
Kohler believed there were enough votes in the Ohio Senate (with its Republican super-majority) to remove her, and she decided to resign rather than engage in a “drag-out fight” with lawmakers.
Eric Poklar was the second appointed member forced to resign after the vote. He was originally appointed in January 2017 by Governor DeWine and reappointed in January 2020. Poklar said at the meeting, “You haven’t told me what’s wrong with the resolution, so I will not vote to rescind it.”
The anti-racism resolution was replaced with one to promote academic excellence without “respect to race, ethnicity or creed.” Some opponents of the resolution believe that systemic racism does not exist, so they blame poverty.
There are people who choose to believe that poverty is the problem, and it’s quite clear in the research, that when you disaggregate the data, that children of color come out with lower scores than white children in Appalachia.
We were supposed to have been elected to make sure that our children succeed. That is why we put that (original) resolution together, because there are children of color, and namely African American children, who are not succeeding, and they deserve to be successful.
They’re not in the AP classes. They get suspended more than anybody else, even if it’s the same violation of a rule as a white child. They’re the ones being suspended and expelled. They’re not graduating as often as white children.
When you look at the data, it’s always, always the African American children who have the lower numbers.
Adding to the situation, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria, who wrote the resolution’s preamble, retired in September.
The Board is preparing to hire a search firm to help find a new Superintendent of Public Instruction. The current “go-along-to-get-along” mentality is not encouraging for genuine academic progress.
I am asking community members to write Governor DeWine.
Let him know you disagree with the “mobster mentality” on the Ohio Board of Education of “do what you’re told or you’re gone.” As stakeholders, don’t you believe that Ohio’s students of color deserve the same opportunities as other students?
To contact Governor DeWine by email use this link: https://governor.ohio.gov
To write a letter, use this address:
Gov. Michael DeWine
77 S. High Street – Suite 30
Columbus, OH 43215
Please take the time to write to the Governor and express your disapproval. Let’s support equitable opportunities for all students.