BELLWOOD — In a virtual meeting on Tuesday, members of the public civilly expressed their frustrations with the Bellwood-Antis School Board, including one person who apologized for what happened at a previous meeting.
District officials moved the meeting to a virtual format following behavior that prompted legal action at the council’s Feb. 1 meeting. Members of the public questioned the district’s actions with seething frustrations over the Ryan Blazier sex abuse case.
This resulted in shouting and a premature adjournment. BA officials said they consulted with law enforcement officials in making the security decision.
“As previously stated by counsel, counsel cannot comment on any matter that is an act of litigation that would include the Blazier case,” said board chairman Tom Finn.
He dispelled rumors on social media that the council had planned to hold a town hall on Blazier’s situation. “It’s not something the board has ever agreed to, and we don’t plan to do so for the reasons I’ve just outlined,” says Finn.
Finn phoned people who signed up to make public comments at Tuesday’s meeting, including Rochelle Simpson who was at the Feb. 1 meeting and staged a protest outside the district office last week.
“In a perfect world, I think what we as a community see is a world where we work together to make decisions. And I would like to say that given the circumstances that have unfolded over the past few weeks … that a lot of decisions were made alone. And it’s very disheartening, especially for our school districts,” said Simpson.
She said decision-making was more of a “dictatorship.” Simpson repeated his previous calls for those under investigation to be placed on leave until the case is concluded.
Following Simpson was Justin Alley, who began his commentary with an apology.
“First of all, I just wanted to apologize for last week or two weeks ago at the last school board meeting. I’m sorry. I’m just passionate about what’s going on,” Alley said.
Court documents show misdemeanor charges, including charges of disrupting meetings or processions and disorderly conduct, were filed after police said Alley used vulgar language and refused to leave.
“But all I really want to say is that these are serious charges (regarding the Blazier case). And with charges like this, you would think that people like that working with children would not be not allowed in this kind of position”, Alley said.
He added that he would not care whether those under investigation were on paid administrative leave, but stressed that they should not be around students until the conclusion of the investigation. ‘investigation.
“And if in a year it turns out that these people are guilty”, Alley asked.
Troy Alley, Elias Alley, Tracie Alley and Jennifer Parkes also signed up for public comment, but asked that their time be allocated to Sherri Noonan.
“I know it’s not the best situation for anyone; there are no winners in this situation,” Noonan started. “But here we are. But also, unfortunately, this is what happens when there is no transparency.
“We have to deal with this. I must remind the nine members of the school board that they were appointed by the community of Bellwood-Antis and the taxpayers. That you are here to protect our backs and those of the children of the school district as a whole,” Noonan said.
She also said that the council and the district were not one “dictatorship” and said the council should work as a collective group to get all the information available.
“I beg you not to take ‘no’ for an answer and demand answers to which you are entitled”, Noonan said, before echoing other commentators’ calls for administrative leave.
Following the public comment period, the meeting focused primarily on BA’s potential transfer to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference beginning in the 2023-24 academic year. The Sports section has more in-depth coverage of the discussion.
Council members also discussed the Hollidaysburg-area school district’s decision to end contact tracing. Finn said that as a parent, he would like to have the necessary information to be able to make his own decision for his child. Vice President Kathy Burch agreed, saying parents should have the information they need to make their own decisions and “keep an eye” on their children.
Superintendent Thomas McInroy added that contact tracing would also be a courtesy for parents or caregivers who have pre-existing conditions and for students who share households with grandparents or those with compromised immune systems.
The board approved various actions, including adding additional teachers to its After School Academy. The after school program meets Monday through Thursday for one hour each day. Officials said the program started on January 31 and is running until mid-April with 35 students currently enrolled. McInroy said the program helps high school students who have experienced learning difficulties in the past three school years impacted by COVID-19.
McInroy said details of next month’s meeting will be announced later.