A newly elected Missouri school board member was reprimanded for holding “listening sessions” with parents in a letter signed by six other members of the board.
Ozark, Missouri school board member Christina Tonsing received the rebuke after holding the listening sessions individually, and not officially, as a member of the school board. The letter was printed on district letterhead and read publicly, reported the Springfield News-Leader.
“Accordingly, let it be known the Ozark school board has not granted Christina Tonsing the authority to conduct any such meeting, and therefore, all liability arising out of any such meeting falls to her personally,” said the letter, according to the News-Leader. “These meetings or similar individual board meetings of any kind are not sanctioned by the Ozark Board of Education.”
Tonsing responded to the letter in a Facebook post and accused the board of making many factual errors within it.
Before Tonsing was a board member she was a math professor at Evangel University and a district parent who became embroiled in a personnel matter involving the resignation of the high school’s JROTC instructor. Allegations were made by the district of inappropriate text messages between the instructor and a student, which the district reported to the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children, said local KNWA Fox News 24.
When parents demanded answers about the resignation, they were continuously ignored by the administration, said Tonsing, according to local KY3 News. That lack of transparency served as the impetus for her candidacy.
“We tried to find some answers on that one small incident, and as we were trying to find answers, we kept on getting rebuffed,” Tonsing told KY3. “We couldn’t get any answers at all. Even if we followed the policy for how to get answers, we still were shut out by the school board. But mostly by the administrators.”
Now, as a school board member looking to improve transparency, Tonsing invited community members, students and teachers via her campaign Facebook page to join her at public meetings so she can hear how they think the district can improve.
The other members of the board said such meetings run the danger of violating state sunshine laws. However, Tonsing says she consulted with an attorney and took measures to mitigate any violations.
“Had the members merely followed our Board ethics, established both in Policy BBF … as well as discussed during trainings, and asked me about the listening sessions before writing the letter, they could have collectively learned all of those mitigation measures enacted,” she wrote on Facebook.
“If my listening sessions were actually so dangerous as to warrant a needed Board disclaimer, then there is surely equal need for disclaimers to be issued for all of the other board members who also attend meetings and speak with the public.”
In a disclaimer pinned to the top of the page Tonsing notes that any comments or opinions made on the page or in any group are her own.
A news article, which seems to have been scrubbed from the district’s website, said Tonsing and two other newcomers were sworn in at the April 13 meeting.
During that meeting Ozark Superintendent Dr. Chris Bauman resigned effective at the end of the school year, even though his contract had been extended in January, said KY3.