BENNINGTON >> The Mount Anthony Union School Board made a change to its proposed condom availability program after learning that the opt-out language conflicted with supervisory union policy.
The MAU board at its last meeting moved that a condom availability program, which is still in the planning stages, would allow parents to opt their children out of the program. If a parent were to do so, the school could not distribute condoms to those students. However, according to MAU board member Leon Johnson, who also serves as policy committee chairman for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, the SVSU policy, which still must be warned and adopted by all the boards, includes a clause that says the decision whether or not to participate in the program must be made by the individual students.
"I want to make it clear," said MAU Chairman Tim Holbrook, "that we do not necessarily have to go along with this. This board is an independent board, and, we like to have policies that go through the whole supervisory union, but if this board feels they would like to maintain that clause that we had in our original motion, they have the right to do that."
However, he added, "I went to the SVSU meeting, and there were some very convincing arguments made there." Those arguments included the impossibility of enforcing that no students on the opt-out list receives condoms (a friend could pick them up, for example), and the liability the school could face if something like that occurred.
After some discussion, board members decided they were comfortable amending their original motion to remove the opt-out clause. Fran Kinney was the only board member who voted in opposition, though he did not expand on his reasons for doing so. The SVSU policy still has a long way to go before it is enacted, but the MAU board will continue crafting its program in the meantime.
Johnson did warn the other members of the board that he had already received what he referred to as "fan mail" regarding the condom policy, in which a gentleman told him that he should "be ashamed of himself" for bringing this policy up for discussion.
Wednesday's meeting also featured some very tight races for positions on the board. Incumbent Chairman Holbrook, of Pownal, and Kinney, of Shaftsbury, were both nominated for chairman, along with Dave Durfee, of Shaftsbury, who declined to be considered for the position. The board, which was missing one member, Ron Higgins of Woodford, voted by paper ballot. SVSU Superintendent Jim Culkeen read the results, with SVSU Technology Director Frank Barnes confirming the totals. The vote ended up being a five-five tie. Nelson Brownell, of Pownal, suggested that the candidates explain why they would make a good chairman, after which the board could re-vote.
"I want to continue the job I've been pleased to have the last few years," said Holbrook, "I believe I've made a big effort to try and include everyone in the decisions that are made. I try to look at both sides of issues and bring those issues to the board. It's a time consuming job, in the sense that you have to look after many different constituencies, and try to make the decisions that are best for the kids. I think that's what our ultimate goal is, to be able to supply the best possible education that we can for our kids.
"I've been on this board not as long as Tim has," said Kinney, "but long enough, and I see that we need to change some of the directions that we're going in." He argued that the boards have become too involved in certain matters, turning the superintendent into more of a figurehead. "I kind of like to keep the boards out of it, and let those people that we're paying do the work. That's how you can change education itself. If we're really for the kids, that's what we need to do."
After their statements, the board re-voted, and chose Holbrook by a measure of six to four. The race for vice-chairman was also hotly contested, between incumbent Vice-chair Johnson, of North Bennington, and Kinney. Kinney was elected 6-4. As clerk, the board elected Kevin Goodhue, after Robert Sherman and Durfee declined consideration.
The final item for consideration was two representatives to the SVSU board. Durfee, Brownell, and Johnson were all nominated. It was agreed that whoever came in third place would be named as the alternate. Previously, Durfee and Johnson had been the representatives, and Brownell had been the alternate. This year, all 10 board members voted for Brownell, and their second votes were split five-five between Durfee and Johnson. After a re-vote, Johnson won the second spot six to four.
The Mount Anthony Union School Board meets the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the Mount Anthony Union Middle School library. Full recordings of the meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.