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Linn-Mar school board questions member about private parent meeting with Reynolds, Hinson

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Matt Rollinger

Matt Rollinger responds to questions at Monday's board meeting

MARION, Iowa (KWWL) - Several members of the Linn-Mar Board of Education questioned and criticized one of their colleagues Monday for attending a meeting last Wednesday with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, and Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-IA01. 

Last Wednesday around 11:30 a.m., the two Republican lawmakers hosted a group of roughly 100 parents and other community members in an administration building in Thomas Park in Marion.

Reynolds' office has told KWWL only that "it was a private meeting", and Hinson's office has provided no comment other than her tweets from the meeting; which say the intention of it was to "talk about the importance of parent's involvement in their kid's education."

Rep. Hinson has two kids in the Linn-Mar Community School District.

The meeting was not on a public schedule for either lawmaker and media was not allowed inside. 

Board member Matt Rollinger said he got an invite to the meeting to his personal email and decided to attend. He told the school board Monday that he identified himself as a school board member, but also emphasized to the crowd that he was there as a parent and a private citizen.

"I did not speak on behalf of the school board. I did not speak about any Linn-Mar district policies. My remarks were solely thanking the governor for coming, thanking the community for coming, and thanking Rep. Hinson for coming," Rollinger said.

The other six Linn-Mar board members said they did not get an invite, and felt blindsided by the meeting.

Rollinger said 95% of the speakers addressed concerns over the district's new transgender support policy, which the district has said is intended to formally incorporate state and federal law regarding transgender students into its policies.

Rollinger said Governor Reynolds' proposal to fund private charter schools through a state-funded voucher system only came up on a limited basis.

"The 'voucher bill' was brought up, but it was not the main focus of the meeting. It was brought up by parents who were feeling 'stuck' if you will, and how that bill is moving forward and how that is going to be an option," Rollinger said.

All of the board members addressed Rollinger about his attendance except for Sondra Nelson. Rachel Wall and board president Brittania Morey were the most stern with Rollinger that he should not have gone, or at least told the rest of the board.

"You just shouldn't have been there," Wall said.

"A heads up would have been nice...would have been appropriate, would have been a professional courtesy, would have been a respectable thing to do. Some could even say it would have been a responsibility to uphold the code of ethics that you agreed to," Morey said.

Rollinger declined to speak with KWWL outside of his comments in the meeting.

During public comment at the end of the meeting, some members of the public defended Rollinger.

"You guys attacked Matt. By adding this to the agenda, it was a blatant attack on a board member. Just sitting there reviewing your code of ethics, I find it really funny that you had a policy there to quote," Geralyn Jones said.

Speakers also took the opportunity to continue sounding off on the recent transgender policy, which allows transgender students to use any bathroom or locker room they want, also allowing them to choose what gender they room with on over night trips. 

The policy says students in seventh grade or older can set their own "gender support plan" (which may be as simple as asking teachers to call them a different name) without a parent's permission.

The district did amend the policy to say if any parent believes their child may have activated a gender support plan without their permission, they can ask the school for a copy of it because that is an educational document parents have a right to see under FERPA.

Ann Brown, a personal injury and employment lawyer in Cedar Rapids, says this policy is in-line with Iowa and federal law, and also that it employs best practices from the Department of Education.

"There is no reason not to have the policies written. The policies are required to be in place. What is important under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and Title IX is that Linn-Mar carry out the policies protecting transgender students consistently throughout the District's schools. This is more likely to happen if the policies are written," Brown said in an email to KWWL.

"The Department of Education advises that parental notification should be addressed on a case-by-case basis with input from the student because not all children live in supportive homes. There are several cases pending in different states on this issue; however prior court rulings suggest that parental rights do not extend so far as to require Districts to notify parents of a gender support plan or to require parental approval of a plan," Brown said.

Ralph Kendrick, a community member who opposes the policy, says he is not against transgender students, but thinks the district is not valuing the safety of all students fairly.

"I've talked to one senior who's afraid to use the bathroom during school days," Kendrick said. "If you were going to put this policy in place, rather than invest in the tennis courts and the performing arts center, you invest in these bathrooms and prove to the community that you're going to make them safe. What they've done is the opposite."

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