Aspen High School Embraces Diversity

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Adam Frisch, an Aspen city councilman and parent, addresses the school board Monday morning over comments made last week by member Sheila Wills.
Photo Credit: Madeleine Osberger of the Aspen Daily News.
Aspen High School Embraces Diversity

Since many of you were unable to attend yesterday’s Aspen School District Board of Education meeting where 40+ people attended to support a community-wide effort to create a positive change in our board leadership and in our diverse community, I have attached a well thought out piece presented to the board by Aspen City Council Member, Adam Frisch, written by his wife Katy.

Comments to the Aspen School District Board of Education Meeting, 16 November, 2015

Written by Adam & Katy Frisch – read by Adam to the ASD BoE

START

I was warned by many parents who have tried to address your Board previously about your strict 5 minute rule per topic for public comment. While I always warn any public body in this community that they restrain the public’s right to speak at their own peril, I have set my timer here as a reminder. If I start to go over, I will check with you, but I am happy to bring the same timer to my evening job the next time you come to visit to show reciprocity as we seem to be having a discussion regarding fairness.

While my remarks are focused on something unrelated to Meredith [Cohen Carroll]’s comments, I as well would like to acknowledge and commend Susan Marolt, Dr. Maloy and his senior administrators, as well as all four principals of the Aspen School district for a very productive discussion last Thursday. I am very confident of a good outcome.

Unfortunately, one board member’s comments during that meeting threaten to derail our positive progress ‐‐ but more importantly and more broadly ‐‐ raised a host of issues regarding the disrespect of some basic community ‐‐let alone American ‐‐ values or as I quote from our own Aspen Middle School Culture of Character “Appreciating each other’s differences.” The reason I am sitting here goes way beyond just the Jewish calendar issues; but the view about all the ‘others’ who make up a growing part of our community.

Sadly, the rest of my comments are made with a heavy heart. While I am making these comments as an active parent of an Aspen Elementary School student and an Aspen Middle School student, I will make one last note of my part time evening job ‐‐ every time I walk into City Hall, I remind myself to check my ego at the door, check my pride at the door, and remain focused on what is in the long term best interest of our special community. I respectfully welcome the five of you to do the same as I make my comments, and remember you were entrusted to sit in those elected chairs for the benefit of the kids and families in our valley, and the hardworking teachers, administrators, and staff of the Aspen School District—not for a place to instill a personal held belief system‐‐‐‐let alone one that many in the community heard last week that sounded as intolerance for ‘others.’

Many times in a small community tough issues get swept under the rug so it is not easy for me to sit here to raise these issues – as important and fundamental as they are ‐‐ but to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sheila’s comments were disturbing on a number of levels, ranging from religiously offensive to just idiotic. First, it is not a school board member’s right to tell parents how to raise their children. Furthermore, her passive‐aggressiveness in challenging our 10% estimate of the Jewish population in our district was offensive – when my wife, Katy, mentioned the 10% estimate, Sheila slyly kept saying 5%‐10%.’—it is her right to challenge our estimates, but to do so in such an underhanded way shows her disdain from the start. More importantly, this also suggests that Sheila needs a certain percentage for her to be happy that any minority group merits consideration. What exactly is this number, Sheila? 12.50%, 17.25%?

Shelia’s comments lead many to believe that she has a lack of regard for minorities or diversity of any type. Not only does she not view diversity as something that enriches our children’s school and life experience, she seems to view it as an annoyance to be mitigated as much as possible. Rather than taking the view that we all have something to learn from each other, and that we should address the needs of the entire community, she seems to think there is a zero sum game; that you can’t educate one group without the other taking a hit. I wonder what Sheila has to say about the 2‐3 kids with accessibility issues, or on some type of lunch subsidy, or in speech therapy, or our English Language Learners, or the gifted kids, or the kids with learning disabilities, or anyone else who might use more than their mathematical share of the school budget over and above their numerical representation. I guess all of those kids should just learn to ‘sacrifice’ for the greater good of the ‘normal’ people.

To hear this attitude from a member of the school board, the President no less, is deeply disturbing. How can we have elected officials who don’t celebrate all of their constituents, especially the children?

We presented comments at our meeting last week that showed how difficult the scheduling decisions were, and how we as a community were presented with choices we did not feel we should have to make, and the response from Sheila was “sacrifice.” I can just hear the conversation with other minority groups – “We can’t accommodate your wheelchair, just learn to sacrifice” or “If we teach you English, what about the kids who already know it? – you should learn to sacrifice.”

I could go on and on ‐ this is not about the school calendar, and again I want to emphasize this is NOT a Jewish issue‐‐this is about an attitude we heard from Sheila that views diversity and accommodation as a bad thing. THAT is what we find so abhorrent – especially in Aspen in 2015, a community that supposedly has been upholding the Aspen Idea of mind, body, and spirit for generations. When her comments were made last week, while I will not speak for others, I can tell you the administration and parents all looked to be in shock. In shock, and ashamed for Sheila. We’ve spent the past four days since the meeting fielding phone calls, emails, and having personal conversations from a VERY wide diversity of people—including many adults who work on this campus ‐‐ all indicating the same shock, disbelief and disgust. As one person said, we are all a minority in some way. This affects us all.

Sheila, we are here to ask you to clarify your comments, and the intonation behind it. How do you really feel about diversity? What percentage of the population does any group need to be to garner your support? Why do you view this as a zero sum game? Do you understand that our population in our district is changing and becoming more diverse? We believe the community deserves an explanation from you.

In addition, the community deserves to hear from the rest of the board members. How do you feelabout Sheila’s comments? Are you willing to sit passively beside her at that table and implicitly condone what she appears to represent? Or are you willing to stand up for all of our students, for our entire community? We would like a response from each member of the board. Having personally learned a lot from this community over the years, if the past is any indication of the future, I remind all of you to think back of all the issues that have spun out of control that would have been much better handled if in hindsight proactive, values‐based leadership was shown.

Members of the board, since you’ve chosen NOT to respond, we would like to ask for a time slot on the agenda during your next board meeting, December 14th, at 4:00pm in this room. We would expect to hear from all of you then, or any time before, as to your thoughts on this matter, and how you intend to respond.

In the meantime, if you are unable to share your thoughts now, I invite you to discuss this issue with your own children; I will be shocked if they are not disappointed in your decision not to speak out.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

END

This also from parent Kimberly Kallenberg Schlosser, devoted parent and community member: Thank you to Meredith Cohen Carroll for her opening remarks, showing our appreciation to the school administrators in hearing our plea, but especially Jim Gilchrist, principal of the Aspen Community School, for vowing to never have a major school event on one of the Jewish High Holy Days. Another huge thank you to Adam and Katy Tresness Frisch, who have organized this effort. Adam gave one of the most incredible speeches I have ever heard that will forever be imprinted on “the right side of Aspen’s history.” Adam’s words were pure brilliance. 

Read More:

Meredith Carroll: Jews don’t need more lessons on sacrifice by Meredith C. Carroll of The Aspen Times

Parents fill Aspen School Board room, talk of recalling Sheila Wills by Laura Glendenning of The Aspen Times

Parents: Comments insensitive to not just Jewish families by Madeleine Osberger of The Aspen Daily News

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