CAMDENTON, Mo. — A growing number of parents are expressing their outrage at the Camdenton R-III school district, over two separate issues that thrust the district board and administration into the spotlight last week.
A last-minute decision made in a special board meeting of the Camdenton R-III administrators, school board, and health services employees on Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 7 a.m. triggered the first round of anger. In that meeting, school officials voted to pass a mask mandate, coined “Masks in Motion” upon recommendation from Rhonda Franken, Camdenton R-III Health Services Coordinator. “Masks in Motion” refers to students wearing masks when out of their seats, from the time they enter the school to the time they leave the building. The board expressed concern for staff’s safety and health, as well as students.
The decision and meeting was made without prior announcement to parents and guardians, with a closed format broadcast streamed to Facebook; the district cites CDC recommendations for the meeting format. The inability of concerned citizens to voice opposition to the policy led to a call for a parent meeting, across local Facebook groups.
The meeting initially was set for Thursday, Aug. 27 at The Gathering Place event venue at Camdenton, but as a growing number of people expressed their intent to come, the meeting was moved to Heartland Worship Center, west of Camdenton.
Approximately 150 people attended, Thursday evening. Upon arrival, two armed deputies in uniform were stationed beside the entrance. Their role at the meeting was unknown, but they did not participate. Stacy Shore, local realtor, activist, and wife of Camdenton head football coach Jeff Shore, was the primary speaker and organizer of the event.
Stacy Shore has been a Lake area realtor for the past 23 years, and owns Shore to Shore LOZ real estate group. As a state political activist, she helped Rep. Suzie Pollack shape legislation against Common Core Education for several years. She holds degrees in Public Administration and Political Science. She and Jeff have children attending Camdenton schools.
PTO meetings usually take place at Oak Ridge Middle School library from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Shore says there are usually around 20 attendees for those meetings.
Thursday night’s emergency concerned parent meeting far exceeded those numbers. Rep Suzie Pollack was in attendance, as well as teachers, coaches, at least one school board member, and Camden County Commissioner-Elect James Gohagan.
"Activism began because of my kids' education," Shore began. "My son could not read in first grade. I began helping him, ordering 'Hooked on Phonics,' things like that. I am not a teacher, my husband is. But the teacher called me and said, 'Are you helping him?' And I said yes. And she said, 'Quit it, you are confusing him.' So I quit helping him, and by third grade he still could not read.”
Her son is now 20 and a graduate of Camdenton School district. Shore shared that she hired a private reading tutor for his difficulties in school. "I pulled him out of the box. In four weeks the tutor had taught him phonics and he was reading on a third grade level. It was at that point that I began traveling the state with Concerned Women for America for no pay. That work resulted in House Bill 1490, and I was on the committee to stop common core education."
Shore's discussion covered multiple topics, from the recent masks mandate, to more perennial concerns over the direction the school is going.
Chromebook Concerns & Selling Student Data
"If you don’t have a Chromebook for your child, you aren’t with the program," Shore said. "We have been told to 'check the box' on technology. I didn’t check the box. This amounts to data collection. Surveys pop up before the student can do their work on the Chromebook, with the data collected going to an unknown third party. Invasive questions about whether the parents get along, the children’s emotional state, and Google is responsible for the data collection. Google is going to own education. Every keystroke is collected and they can share the data with parties outside of Google. School-issued Chromebooks are collecting data for the Camdenton Schools hard drive." At this point her husband Jeff Shore verified this information to the assembly.
Stacy Shore continued, "The children are being monetized through the Chromebook use and data collection. Look it up, this is from the FBI regarding EdTech and collection of student data and can be used to collect PII biometric data, geolocations, and the teacher can shadow their students through Chromebook and see what the student is doing on their Chromebook at any time. The FBI statement goes on to warn against EdTech technologies that can be used to access and monitor students without parents' knowledge if they previously checked yes on the technology box. Emotional and social algorithms are leading to referrals at the school district level, even referral to telemedicine which is a third-party online mental health provider. This is why I’m not signing it (the technology agreement)."
"We want to set our teachers free to teach. The technology grants provide money, but we believe in teachers, and it handcuffs them to the grant curriculum," Shore shared.
One parent at the meeting shared the story of a jarring encounter at Oak Ridge Elementary. The woman says she told her child's teacher last year that her child would not participate in Chromebook learning or Google Classroom. However, she says the teacher signed her child up anyways without telling her; she says the teacher obtained her child's school identification, signed in on his behalf, and verbally asked him questions and submitted an assignment on his behalf.
"Luckily, my student shared with me, and told me what happened. Of course I went to Oak Ridge Elementary administration and complained, and they told me that they were acting on the parents' authority," the parent said. "I threatened to file a federal complaint and it stopped immediately."
Shore said her concerns about "Trauma-informed school pilots in K-12, specific questions about home life, drug use in the home" are what led to her activism. "But the same thing is happening with this mask mandate," she said. "Our children are being told by the school district that they are disrespectful and they are wrong if they don’t abide by the mask mandate. Lake of the Ozarks sets the bar nationwide because we are free and we are the bright and shining city on the hill."
Mask Violations & Parent Concerns
At the present time, the school board is treating a violation of the new mask mandate as a dress code violation. Most parents voiced that they were allowing their high school children to make their own decisions regarding the mask mandate.
Some parents at the Thursday meeting reported they had been called by the school regarding their student having difficulties wearing the mask. One mother said the school called about her daughter who was crying and not wanting to wear it. She said the teacher offered two options: come pick the student up from the school, or with her consent, send the student to a recovery room.
The clear consensus at Thursday's gathering was a wish for schools to be open and functioning without any mask mandate. The high school students in attendance were less inclined to push back against the mandate, and parents voiced that was okay with them, whatever made their student comfortable.
"My children love going to school. They don’t want to go this year and wear masks. It scares them," one parent of an elementary student said.
Shore expressed concerns about damaging psychological effects these mandates could be worsening for children already struggling with life in an ever adjusting COVID-world. "There is stress, anxiety, and other issues affecting our children, and this just adds to it," Shore said.
One dad spoke of his concern regarding his children's emotional difficulties. The unnamed parent shared, "A lot of this is being overhyped, and it is causing traumatic side effects. My boy can’t play flag football. I want to figure out a way they can have sports. We have to think about what we are going to do about their mentality."
Parents in attendance also voiced concern over Camdenton schools’ Health Services Coordinator Rhonda Franken’s pressuring the school board to pass the mask mandate.
"They are sticking with CDC and WHO recommendations," Shore said. "They are incredibly controversial, it has become a political agenda, and I’m here to tell you those organizations can’t be trusted. They don’t tell the truth. It goes back to the math, it’s just wrong, the CDC’s data. The Lake of the Ozarks had 10 million visitors this season, which is approximately double the average numbers. The word is out that we are free, and we are without masks and social distancing, and people are coming here. Business has increased due to our choice of freedom over CDC regulations. The Lake Hospital System currently only has 3 pending COVID cases with zero hospital admissions. The WHO recommendations are wrong, there are scientific studies on the adverse effects of wearing a mask all day long. Advocates in education are leading our children off of a cliff!"
These statements were met with overwhelming applause from the assembly.
Shore thanked Camdenton School board member Troy Risner for his support to their concerns. Risner is a Camdenton graduate, an electrical engineer, a volunteer in multiple school programs, and provides the district with auditorium technician assistance. He has two children attending Camdenton High School and was in attendance in the first hour of the concerned citizens forum.
Shore called for "informed consent" from the school district, warning of another lawsuit, explaining that parents and guardians need advance notification and more communication from the school board and administration.
Another parent, who did not introduce themself, spoke regarding statements posted online by school board members. "They are concerned with the liability of the district only," the parent said.
Shore replied, "I can’t picture my husband coaching football in a mask and goggles," referencing recommendations suggested by school board member Courtney Hulett.
"It was a very underhanded thing that was done," one parent stated regarding the Tuesday morning meeting. "My high school child chooses to wear a mask, and I am okay with that... I don't think that these people are trying to be vindictive, but it is my child and my choice." The parent went on to relate a story about her grade school child who she fears may fall behind if she can not attend school because she doesn’t want to wear a mask.
"We need to respectfully ask the board to reconsider the rule, and listen to parents, and their concerns," Shore said plainly.
One parent that has been holding signs outside of the school in protest since school began, revealed she had received a call from an administrator telling her it was his job to ask her to consent to the mask mandate and stop physical protests.
Parents shared that the superintendent of schools informed them two weeks before school started that there would not be a mask mandate unless told to enact one by the Camden County Health Department or the Missouri Governor’s Office.
Middle and high school students spoke about their experiences since the beginning of the school year at Camdenton.
Samantha Jo Owens, a 15-year-old sophomore student, addressed the forum regarding a QR scan or paper-and-pen sign out contact tracing that has also been implemented in the school district, even when students ask to use the restroom. "They are tracing who you have been with, when you left the classroom, through QR codes," Owens said. She organized a physical protest with other students against the mask mandate on Tuesday. One student got sent home, according to Owens, so the rest of the protestors disbanded out of fear of punishment.
Sex Crimes, The Janitor, & The Lawsuit
After Shore spoke, Mindi Sales, local activist and radio talk show personality, took the podium. Sales is calling for the school board to place Superintendent Dr. Tim Hadfield and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Neal on administrative leave immediately, in light of the lawsuit filed by Camdenton teacher Kirk Richey in August against the Camdenton School District.
She explained the school board's response to the lawsuit—which alleges Hadfield and Neal knew janitor Jesse DeVore had repeatedly committed lewd acts in a school bathroom but did not fire him or take any legal action—was in support of the superintendent and assistant superintendent. Parents allege that district administration shuffled the janitor between schools in the district in an attempt to protect him before his dismissal. They questioned his personal relationship with members of the school district administration.
A Camdenton R-III School District teacher is suing the district over its handling of a janit…
Sales called for Board President Chris McElyea’s immediate resignation.
"This is not about a witch hunt to get them, this is about protecting our district and helping the teachers, and people that are afraid to say a word. There are teachers thanking us for this," Sales stated. A recall of school board members was discussed by the forum.
The forum appears to be the first rally in a major movement. Parents expect a lengthy struggle but have been aided by social media, and the number of concerned parents is growing. Many continue to call for forced administrative leave immediately for the district’s superintendent and assistant superintendent, and the resignation of the school board president. They also request that their students are no longer denied “pen and paper” learning, and plan to remove their students from the school district’s technology agreement.
A YouTube video of the forum posted online has over 2,400 views. The video can be viewed below.
The Board Responds
Camdenton School District Superintendent Dr. Tim Hadfield and the Camdenton Board were contacted regarding the parent concerns: over the mask mandate and the lawsuit.
"There was not specific polling regarding masking for students," McElyea responded. "The decision was made based on student utilization of masks during summer school, freshman mock scheduling last week and during the first day of school."
A LakeExpo reader poll launched August 26, asking about the mask mandate for Camdenton students, can be seen below. As of this publishing, the poll had received 1,064 votes.
LAKEEXPO POLL: Should local students be required to wear masks?
Should students in Lake area schools be required to wear masks?
When asked about the lawsuit filed by Camdenton teacher Kirk Richey, McElyea sent the following response, in italics below. (Click here to read more about Richey's lawsuit.)
As we have already advised, the District’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation. Also, under District policy and Missouri law, the District cannot provide specific information about confidential student and/or personnel information, or information related to confidential investigations. However, because of the public interest in this story, I am providing as much information in response to your questions as the law and District policy will allow. The District’s administrators did conduct an initial investigation into the allegations of abuse made against the janitor, hotlined children’s division, and then turned the investigation over to law enforcement. The janitor was also terminated. The District also engaged an independent third party investigator to conduct an investigation into all allegations, including allegations against administrators in the District. Based on that independent investigation, the District disputes the claims of wrongdoing that Mr. Richey is making in his lawsuit. Because the investigation involves a personnel matter, relates to student records, and relates to a confidential investigation under Board policy AC, it is a closed record under the Missouri Sunshine Law.
However, not all of the board is in lockstep on the issue. Following McElyea's response to LakeExpo's inquiry, Callie Henze, the newest member of the board, sent her own reply. "I want to state, for the record, I do not give authority for Dr. Hadfield or Chris McElyea to speak on my behalf as part of the Board of Education," Henze said. "I was not part of the original investigation and I have not been made privy to any details surrounding the findings of that investigation."
On Aug. 27, the same day as the parent meeting, two more lawsuits were filed against the school district by the parents of two children to whom DeVore is alleged to have exposed himself.
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