Parents fill Aspen School Board room, talk of recalling Sheila Wills
The Aspen Times
At least 50 parents showed up at a meeting of the Aspen School District’s Board of Education on Monday morning to find the board member they wished to address absent from the meeting.
The parents in attendance chose two spokespeople — Meredith Carroll and Adam Frisch — to deliver remarks in response to a meeting last week in which board member Sheila Wills made comments that offended many Jewish parents. A group of parents initiated last week’s meeting to address the school district’s calendar after experiential education programs were scheduled during Jewish high holidays this year.
Wills told parents last week, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing upon occasion to be raised this way — to look at your child and say, ‘You know what, sometimes I think you have to make a sacrifice for your faith.’ … So maybe on those days when those kids do have to do a makeup test, maybe that’s how you teach them that.”
The remarks turned what began as a grievance with the school calendar into something entirely different. Parents are now questioning whether school district leadership supports tolerance and diversity.
“Sheila’s comments lead many to believe that she has a lack of regard for minorities or diversity of any type,” Frisch, an Aspen city councilman and a parent of students in Aspen Elementary School and Aspen Middle School, told the board while reading from prepared remarks. “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.”
Frisch’s and Carroll’s comments included notes of optimism, too. They thanked the board members and community members who they felt did listen to parents’ concerns. Carroll said it was particularly encouraging to hear Jim Gilchrist, principal of Aspen Community School, say he’d never again schedule major school events during major Jewish holidays.
In the hallway after Carroll and Frisch delivered their remarks, there was chatter among parents about recalling Wills from the board. Several spoke of asking Wills for her resignation, but those asked about it wouldn’t go on the record to confirm any specific plan.
Parent Kimberly Schlosser, while admittedly frustrated with Wills and school district administration, found a silver lining in the situation. She said that while it’s painful to hear comments that represent intolerance, perhaps Wills “said those things for a reason: so that our community could come together and react and create positive change.”
Frisch directly asked board members to address Wills’ comments, but after the public-comment period closed, the board chose not to deviate from its agenda and did not address the questions from Frisch. On Monday evening, board President Sandra Peirce said that was because agendas are set three weeks in advance and unless an item is marked as a discussion item, the board does not respond to public comments.
Frisch asked for an agenda item to be added to the Dec. 14 school board meeting, which the board later approved.
As for why Wills was not present, Peirce said it’s because she travels once a month to tend to a personal family matter in Tennessee.
Katy Frisch, Adam Frisch’s wife, helped organize last week’s meeting with district officials and board members. She was out of town Monday but told The Aspen Times via email Monday night that 4 out of 5 school board members responded to a request for individual meetings with parents almost immediately Monday. Katy Frisch said they were still waiting to hear from Wills.
Next steps, she said, depend upon the outcome of the requests from parents, which include a response from Wills regarding her comments last week as well as responses from each board member on the matter.
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Mario Ruiz came to Aspen Highlands from Bariloche through the ski patrol exchange as part of the Sister Cities program last winter. He quickly ingrained himself with the Highlands patrol. Ruiz was killed July 27 in an avalanche while working at his home ski area. The Highlands patrol is raising funds for his family.