Brandywine Community School Board votes on $5,000 We Need Diverse Books grant

NILES, Mich. - The Brandywine Community School Board met to approve the We Need Diverse Books grant for Brandywine Schools. 

At Merritt Elementary, Monday night, Berrien resident and teaching veteran for over 60 years, Jim Rose, took to the mic to voice his opinions. 

"I ask myself why you might reject $5,000 worth of free books," said Rose. "If these books are inappropriate, then of course, you should reject the grant. I hope you'll not assume that the word diverse automatically means inappropriate."

Rose urged the board to exercise due diligence and to not reject the money out of suspicion of inappropriate content.

"This is a case where good judgment should prevail over bad feelings," he said, saying they should approve the gift and not make a $5,000 mistake.

Following Rose, the board discussed the process of accepting grant money or gifts and the criteria that should apply to those situations. 

"If there are any grants that are applied from organizations that have a pollical slant, an agenda or a belief system, political, social or ideology, I think those should be brought to the board," said Board President Thomas Payne. 

"I do agree with the financial threshold, but I think there should be additional criteria," he said, referring to board approved supplemental curriculum materials inside the classroom.

Before a motion to discuss the grant, board trustee Michelanne McCombs voiced her feelings regarding the community's "distrust" towards the board. 

"The diverse books grant was kept on the down-low and we didn't know about it. It's sad to me," she said, feeling this was done because "we weren't trusted."

She said the grant was applied in an "underhanded" way.

McCombs said Rose solidified her feelings in his discussion, saying she saw similar issues.

"I want to say, 'I can trust these teachers and whoever is picking out these books to do the right thing for these kids.' I think we need to move forward trusting each other."

Furthermore, Payne addressed the accusations against the board's intentions. 

"When the grant was applied for, there was some things within the grant saying, 'We wanted to make some changes without ever accessing the current policies and procedure.' That was just totally untrue. It makes sense for us to make that public," he said.

Payne read an email to the board stating:

"I suspect we'll be fine in accepting the books from these grants. If they (meaning the Board of Education) want to argue about it, then they can do that in an open meeting and make fools of themselves by turning away thousands of dollars of books."

He called the comments "disrespectful" and showing "great contempt for the body."

"We're all elected by the community in a fair and democratic fashion," said Payne. "Regardless of who sits in the seat, I think it was disrespectful."

"The intension was never to ban books, just," he referenced to Michelanne, "to do the right thing."

He's confident the board can work together to make good advancement in the future.

They voted on the "We Need Diverse Books" grant.

The board, all apart from Payne, voted for the grant, passing the motion.  

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