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Forest Hills School Board recall petition stalled by court appeal

If the petition gets the required 6,916 signatures, five of seven Forest Hills School board members could be recalled in a special election in May.

ADA, Mich. — Parents in the Forest Hills School district are speaking out both against and in favor of the Board of Education. Leading the charge disapproving of the board is the group Forest Hills for JUST Education, who hope to recall five of the seven members.

"This is not personal," says Stefanie Boone, one of the group's founders. "This is employer-employee."

Boone says she and other parents have tried for months to get the attention of the School Board and see changes. She says the group represents parents with a wide range of views on a number of issues, including both sides of the mask and vaccine debate. She says there are two issues that their members all agree about — transportation needs to improve and board meetings need to be live streamed for the community to view.

"We’ve been accused of smoke-screening the community," she said. "Trying to hook everyone in with the livestreaming and the bussing, but that’s not true." 

For the moment, their efforts are at a standstill. JUST Education is seeking to recall the board members through a special election. They filed the petition citing those two issues, but the Board of Education has appealed it, and a Judge in the 17th Circuit Court will rule on whether the wording is clear and factual enough to seek signatures. 

The school district has said the issues surrounding transportation stem from a nationwide school bus driver shortage. Live streaming meetings has been an issue of budget, and though it was denied in past notes to parents, School Board President Mary Vonck says the hiring of a communications director will solve that issue. The final round of interviews for that position begins Wednesday.

"The pandemic scared people," Vonck said. "It’s an unknown, so we’ve been trying to trudge through this together."

Vonck says she can understand why parents are frustrated. Like them, she wants to see what's best for the students prevail. She said if it passed, she would respect the results of the petition and a recall, but as a veteran education official, she believes the recall petition is causing more harm than good.

"Everyone would be brand new," she said. "There would be no institutional knowledge and no history." 

She also called it a misuse of funds. If the recall petition gets the required signatures, the special election in May would cost $100,000, which Vonck says would directly hit Forest Hills schools.

The number of needed signatures is at 6,916. The group hopes to get 8,300.

"If our community thinks that they need to restructure the Forest Hills School Board, then our community will foot that bill," she said.

"I feel it's a necessary use of resources," Boone said. "We feel that the resources have been directed to the wrong areas for too long."

While the petition effort has been lead by concerned parents, other parents in the district have started a counter-effort in support of the School Board.

"We feel it’s important to stand up and support our board because," said Christy Mayo, a parent with students at Forest Hills schools. "They’re elected members, our community selected them."

Mayo and other parents have created their own website with information much like JUST Education, titled SupportFHPS. Mayo and Vonck say there's more to the petition than what sits on the surface, and stressed the importance of researching before signing. 

Of the five board members listed for recall on the petition, three would be up for reelection in November of 2022, just 6 months after the special election could be held. The other two members of the board have not served long enough to be eligible for recall under Kent County Election laws.

RELATED VIDEO: Parents discuss masks at Lowell school board meeting

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