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Education

Ohio Board of Education's Kohler & Poklar resign following anti-racism vote

 Ohio Board of Education President Laura Kohler and board member Eric Poklar at the Oct. 13, 2021, board meeting.
Ohio Channel
Ohio Board of Education President Laura Kohler and board member Eric Poklar at the Oct. 13, 2021, board meeting.

Two appointees to State Board of Education have resigned ahead of an expected vote in the Ohio Senate to remove Laura Kohler and Eric Poklar from the Ohio Board of Education.

Earlier this month, Kohler, who serves as president of the board, and Poklar both voted against repealing an anti-racism resolution the board had previously passed after George Floyd was killed by a Minnesota Police officer in 2020. The board voted to replace the state equity resolution with one condemning any classroom teachings that "seek to divide." 

Sources tell Ideastream Public Media, the Republican-controlled Senate was moving to remove the two appointed members from the board in retaliation over those votes.

Kohler resignation letter said in part that the board "must remain focused on academic achievement and keeping students safe, and physically and emotionally healthy." And she said she can best support DeWine and the board's work by resigning.

Poklar's resignation says in part, "I salute those I have worked with and wish only the best to those who will serve in the future. Quite simply, my time on the board has ended, and I am ready to hand off my responsibilities to whomever comes next."

Neither letter referenced the anti-racism resolution.

According to Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper, Kohler planned to resign because she did not have the votes to be confirmed by the senate and did not want to "create a distraction."

Kohler's term was supposed to end in 2024. Poklar declined to be interviewed.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) hinted a change was coming when he talked to reporters Wednesday about the Senate’s approval of fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s appointments.

"When I just became president [in January], my first concern was this diversity thing, but that was an issue that was brought to me by a whole variety of people, including other state school board members," Huffman said.

Other education concerns that have been raised, he said, include school choice, school funding and the operation of the Ohio Department of Education.

Huffman also said "geographical diversity" was among the issues with the governor's appointees.

“Nearly all of them are from central Ohio, and I don't think that's representative of the state. So I went to them and I expressed it and I said, I think some of these folks, perhaps you'd like to withdraw some of these names," Huffman said.

Three of the eight appointed members are from the Columbus area. The others are from Washington Court House in south central Ohio, Leetonia in the Youngstown area, Lebanon in southwest Ohio and two from Lakeview and Sidney in northwest Ohio – not far from Huffman’s hometown of Lima.

All the appointed board members were selected to the board by either DeWine or his Republican predecessor Gov. John Kasich.

A spokesman for DeWine said he was aware of media reports, but as of mid-afternoon on Thursday he said, "we have not received any formal resignations at this time."

In a Thursday afternoon interview with Ideastream Public Media, the OFT's Melissa Cropper was critical of Huffman.

"It is an abuse of power," she said. "I think it is another example of how our senate and our senate president continues to override the voices of the general public."

The Ohio Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement to Ideastream Public Media, “The Senate takes its advise and consent duties seriously. It is unfortunate the OFT’s director supports far left special interests and candidates like Terry McAuliffe who believe parents should have no say in the education of their children.”

There's long been a struggle over the composition of the State Board of Education, made up of eight appointees and 11 elected board members.

A bipartisan bill would make the entire state Board of Education an elected body. But K-12 education is such a critical issue, governors have long wanted more control over the state board.

The departures of the board members also come at a time of increased interest in local school board races. The Ohio School Boards Association reports 2,628 candidates are running for school boards this year, an increase of more than 50% compared to the number of candidates running for school boards four years ago.
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