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Columbus Education Association calls for school board member's resignation after document leaked

A man wearing a tie gestures while speaking in a classroom.
Allie Vugrincic
Columbus City Schools board member Brandon Simmons leads a tour of his alma mater, Columbus Alternative High School. The Columbus Education Association is calling for Simmons to resign from the school board after receiving a leaked document they say Simmons wrote.

Updated: 10:30 a.m. May 23, 2024

Columbus City School Board member Sarah Ingles said she is the person who leaked a document to the Columbus Education Association after she saw a copy of it. The CEA described the document as "abhorrent, vile, corrupt."

It was written by board member Brandon Simmons. While Simmons claims other board members helped pen it, several members have denied that.

They're calling for the resignation of Simmons after they received the document that outlines divisive and suppressive strategies to handle the union's negative reaction to the board's plan to shutter some of the district's schools.

When he spoke outside of a school board meeting Tuesday evening, he claimed the document was a joint effort, and that a version of it was leaked that shouldn't have been.

"We're very sorry, and it's very regrettable that that's the version people are looking at. It was a collaboration. There was input from many many different people and ideas from many many different folks. There are multiple versions of the document and there were multiple meetings with important stakeholders," he said.

In social media posts Thursday, Ingles wrote that she was "not in any meeting where this document was shared." And didn't draft it or even know it existed until it was shared with her.

"I was appalled and offended when I read it," Ingles posted.

"After serious consideration of what was best for the district and our students, I decided to share the document. Our work in the district is too important for these kinds of divisive and absurd tactics," the post continues.

The leaked document asserts the school board hasn't controlled messaging strongly enough around the process to close some district schools. The document states the board members should attempt to weaken the union for its negative response and subvert their ability to participate in public discussions.

And, the co-chairs of the task force charged with making recommendations for school building closures said they don't intend on dissolving the task force and starting over, another of the union's requests.

The Columbus Education Association in a news release Tuesday called for Brandon Simmons to resign from the board and for the task force to dissolve. Simmons took office earlier this year.

Education advocate Izetta Thomas, who is with the CEA, stated in an email that Simmons authored the leaked document and shared it with other board members in a private meeting before it was leaked to the union.

Simmons declined a WOSU request for comment over the phone on Wednesday and didn't return numerous messages on Tuesday.

But CCS Board President Christina Vera said the document was all Simmons' personal opinion.

"(Simmons) was not asked to provide any recommendations and did so independently. (Simmons) recommendations are solely their own and do not represent the perspectives of the Columbus City Schools or the entire Board of Education," Vera's statement reads.

Included in the document are calls for the board to move their meetings at the last minute, employ loud machinery to drown out naysayers and the dismissal for union concerns as lies.

The document suggests the board takes advantage of racial divides among the staff, shows favor to cooperative media outlets and delays negative agenda items to portray positive messages.

"This plan is abhorrent, vile, corrupt, and beneath the dignity of public officials entrusted with the safety and well-being of nearly 50,000 students and the trust of our community. In addition, this plan contains elements that are blatantly illegal, such as moving board meetings last minute while the public waits in a different room," states a news release from the CEA.

CEA President John Coneglio and Thomas are asking the school board to reject the concepts in the leaked document.

In addition to asking for Simmons' resignation, they want any school board member who worked on the document to reveal their involvement, for the board to make all communication about the school closure task force public and for the board members to assure the public that the strategy was not implemented.

The news releases states CEA hired legal counsel to help handle the situation.

CEA is also insisting the school board restart the process to determine which city schools should be closed in order to regain public trust.

The co-chairs of the Community Facilities Task Force said Wednesday they weren't involved in the strategy document and don't endorse it.

"I think our members of the task force are still eager to get back to work, making sure that we give the right recommendations before June," co-chair Al Edmonson said.

Co-chair Jim Negron said two task force public meetings originally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday this week will be rescheduled.

"We're still in the community feedback phase, so we're anxious to hear the voice of the community. You know, there are a lot of passionate community members out there. We need to make sure we hear what they have to say. And I'm sure, you know, they're really smart people that are going to give us a really good insight and perspective so that we can incorporate that into our final recommendations."

In statement the task force released, Edmonson and Negron stress that the document, dated May 10, hasn't affected how they make recommendations for school closures.

"To be clear, no one on the task force or administrative staff were involved in the creation or distribution of the identified document. The work of the task force is directed by the superintendent at the request of the board of education. Board members do not direct the task force, nor do they provide counsel or set procedures for the task force."

Coneglio resigned from the task force that makes school closure recommendations last month.

In his resignation letter, Coneglio wrote he did not see the task force committed to "ensuring that the physical resources of our district are prepared to meet the needs of our city's fast-growing population."

"I anticipated that our discussions would include transformation and growth of our district to meet these needs," Coneglio wrote. "Instead, through the course of six full meetings, it has become apparent that the focus of the committee is solely on the mass closure of neighborhood schools and the further managed decline of our district."

Other CCS board members, including Tina Pierce, Jennifer Adair, Michael Cole, Sarah Ingles and Ramona Reyes did not respond to an email asking them to verify the letter and to offer a response.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.