Vowing more discussion and better communication, APS Board maintains Valentine’s Day decision

Published 7:31 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

Members agree to continue discussing situation


In a 5-2 vote Monday evening, during a work session of the Austin Public Schools Board, members turned down a motion to table cancellation of Valentine’s Day celebrations within the district in order to gain input from the public.

The vote, brought forward by member Evan Sorenson, would have effectively allowed the continuation of Valentine’s Day within the district as the board continued discussions into how to best approach holiday celebrations in the future.

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“We were elected to represent the community of Austin and to be the leading voice and governing body of the Austin School system,” Sorenson said in a prepared statement Monday night. “We must not lose sight of the fact that we are primarily accountable to the people at large, a basic democratic principle.”

Monday’s discussion arose after pushback from parents regarding the cancellation of Valentine’s Day in order to establish consistency across the district.

The decision, made by district principals and Superintendent Dr. Joey Page, was made because not all the schools were participating in celebrations. 

Board member Kathy Green referenced the parent push back at the meeting prior to Monday’s work session, saying: “I would like to see this decision delayed until the School Board can have a discussion on the topic.”

Green and Sorenson were the aye votes Monday night with Sorenson arguing that his motion was meant simply to pause the process and reinstate the holiday celebrations until feedback could be garnered from the public.

“I’m not saying this is a permanent solution,” Sorenson said, indicating that the subject could be revisited after the input was gathered.

Carolyn Dube, Peggy Young, Carol McAlister, Don Leathers and Cece Kroc voted against the motion

While Monday night’s discussion was facilitated by concerns over the canceled Valentine’s Day holiday, it also revealed other issues beneath the umbrella of the subject that board members felt needed more discussion.

One of those was how much control the board should have over decisions made at lower levels, with Young expressing that the board was a governance body and shouldn’t necessarily be involved in every decision made at the individual school level.

“The greater question for me is, what is our job as a board?” she asked. “What are we charged with? If it’s up to us to dictate whether or not classrooms have a Valentine’s Day party … do we determine how many pep fests in a year? Do we vote on candy cane sales or robotics fundraisers?”

Dube, who is the board chair, also expressed skepticism along this front, saying that it was a “slippery slope” to start changing decisions made by school administration, though Leathers expressed doubt that a decision in the affirmative Monday night would have meant a significant rise in future decisions.

Another area the board felt was a part in the process was a lack of communication, with some saying some parts of the process were something of a surprise.

“I think communication is the key,” Leathers said, adding that opinions from staff also matter in the process. “Our most important asset is our staff across the board. If they feel like their input isn’t taken, that’s not a good thing.”

Still, Green argued that there is an educational component to the celebrations that open traditions up to all students within the district, and that they fit within the goals of the district.

“This has probably been an issue with most public comments since I’ve been on the board,” Green said. “Emails, phone calls, grocery stores, restaurants — people are engaged in this event. (Celebrations) are a valuable resource fostering imagination and supporting education. It can recognize unique cultures.”

Other than the vote, which maintained the district going forward without celebrating Valentine’s Day, nothing specific was decided Monday night, though ideas on how to approach the issue through compromise were suggested.

This included the possibility of using fundraising dollars to help support celebrations in the schools.

Another was suggested by Kroc and included encouraging teachers to take time out of the day in the month of February for fun activities that reflected the spirit of the holidays if not the holidays themselves.

What was roundly agreed on by board members was the need for improved communications and more discussion in the future to reduce any gray areas that might cause an issue in the future.

“This particular day, I think, was just the tipping point of parents,” Dube said. “I think it’s a symptom of a different conversation we as a board can and should be having.”