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Lawrence school board to consider Montessori program, hear results of Title IX study

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The Lawrence school board will meet beginning at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 25 at district offices. Here are some key points from the meeting agenda:

 The board will hear a recommendation to implement Montessori curriculum at New York Elementary.

If approved, it would become the first public Montessori school in Kansas, according to the agenda memo. The memo does not include any information about the costs of startup or training teachers. 

The memo states that “professionally trained Montessori teachers will guide children through five main areas of curriculum”: practical life (students work on skills that help them gain independence), sensorial (students use all five senses and to stimulate interests in natural sciences and geometry, which become the basis for study), mathematics, language, and expression, according to the memo.

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For the 2022-23 school year, the curriculum would begin with the Children’s House, which would serve 3- and 4-year-old students and kindergarteners. 

If approved, the program might expand in future years: The recommended action in the agenda memo suggests the board “directs the district administration to determine the phased addition of other grade levels during subsequent years.”

Staff members recommend the board approve the program, citing the need for the district to attract new families to schools and an already supportive Montessori community in Lawrence.

Of 95 Lawrence teachers who responded to an interest survey about Montessori certification, “91.6% indicated an interest in the Montessori approach to learning,” according to the memo.

The board will also hear the results of a Title IX study from MVP Law Firm.

A recommendation to cut the district’s gymnastics program has sparked Title IX discussions since the sport’s future became murky in December — before the district and school board began in-depth budget cut conversations. 

In education or activities where federal funds are received, schools must comply with Title IX — a civil rights law that prevents discrimination based on sex, including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The district said in December it had intended to communicate before the fall season a plan to end the program but failed to do so until after the season’s end. Then, the district recommended that the board cut the program to save $10,332. 

Before taking any further action to remove the program, the board and administration requested a Title IX study to ensure compliance, and the board has been waiting for that report before deciding whether removing gymnastics would create an inequity. The board tabled the proposed cut in late March. 

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Discussions to eliminate the program have been happening for the past several years, according to the agenda memo, which also reiterates concerns the district has shared: safety concerns with the equipment gymnasts perform on and administrators moving the heavy equipment for practices at LHS, and “costs associated with gymnastics” such as coaching, transporting students for practice, replacing outdated equipment and renting a facility.

“There is a challenge to find a location for competitions and thus we cannot host teams here in Lawrence, which puts a burden on other districts,” according to the memo.

Coach Kat Farrow, however, said in an interview in March that she has heard from a local business owner that he “absolutely would love to host” meets for the FireLions, the combined Lawrence and Free State High School gymnastics team.

The results of the Title IX study were not included in the agenda as of Sunday afternoon. 

In other business:

As part of its consent agenda — items that are considered routine, and voted on altogether in one motion — the board will consider a personnel report that includes resignations of 24 teachers, two library media specialists, three learning coaches and more. 

Also on the consent agenda is an agreement with Topeka-based BT&Co. certified public accountants for an annual independent audit of district finances for $33,000.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Monday, a half-hour earlier than usual, for a work session on data-informed decisions with the district’s outgoing director of data and technology, Zach Conrad. 

“This work session will cover the district’s goals and supporting work specifically around academics, behavior and school climate,” according to the agenda. No report was included in the agenda as of Sunday afternoon. 

The meeting will be held at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available at this link.

To give public comment virtually during the board meeting, email PublicComment@usd497.org by 6 p.m. on the day of the meeting to sign up to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing. 

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Emma Bascom (she/her), reporter, can be reached at ebascom (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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