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Ignacio selects new school board member

Appointee hopes to represent home-schoolers
The Ignacio Board of Education selected a new member to fill an open seat after a resignation. (Durango Herald file)

The Ignacio School District Board of Education appointed a new member, Lee Petty, to replace outgoing school board member Doug Little.

Little resigned from the board in April for personal health reasons. The four remaining board members unanimously appointed Petty, one of two applicants for the position, last week after conducting interviews. Petty will be sworn in Thursday and will serve on the board until the November elections.

In his new role, Petty seeks to bring more representation for home-schooling families and more “choice” when it comes to COVID-19 policies.

“I am excited to be able to serve the community in this way,” said Petty, an Ignacio resident and landscape architect with the city of Durango. “I just hope to bring a new perspective to the board.”

Petty’s children use the Ignacio School District for extracurricular activities but are otherwise educated at home. He said other families do the same, and he can help the district better serve home-schooled students.

“Coming from the home-school background, I’m familiar with the education system at a more intimate level than a lot of parents,” Petty said. “I do understand the challenges in educating children and what the teachers face in trying to convey new ideas to the students in our school district.”

Board member Allen McCaw said Petty brings budget experience that is valuable to the board. His construction management experience could also help the district if it decides to take on any capital improvement projects in the near future, McCaw said.

Petty also aligned with board members over policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Yvonne Chapman, the board’s vice president.

Petty supported in-person instruction for students during the pandemic, when school districts around the country struggled to balance students’ learning needs and the risk of viral spread.

The other candidate, Gina Schulz, was not supportive of in-person learning, which has been a priority of the board, Chapman said.

Schulz, a substitute teacher who has run for the school board in the past, said she supported in-person learning if safety protocols are followed, including mask wearing.

“I’m happy for him. Good luck,” Schulz said. “I’m happy that someone stepped up. That’s what is most important.”

Petty also helped organize an alternative prom event Saturday, called the Liberty Ball, which he said was a way of offering more choice to the school community.

The ball did not ask attendees to comply with public health requirements, like social distancing and mask wearing. The Ignacio School District prom, also Saturday, included public health requirements.

About 35 students from Ignacio, Bayfield, Durango and Pagosa Springs attended, Petty said.

“I hope it just gives parents and students the opportunity to recognize that there are alternatives to school-sanctioned events if they do not meet your values,” Petty said.

The event sparked concerns in the community, said Brian Devine, deputy incident commander for COVID-19 response for San Juan Basin Public Health. Leadership from all three La Plata County school districts, Bayfield, Durango and Ignacio, expressed concerns about impacts to in-person learning and plans for graduation ceremonies, he said.

SJBPH asked the organizers, including Petty, to self-certify the event, which outlines how public health requirements will be met. They declined, and SJBPH issued a notice of violation. The organizers then described the ball as a religious event, Devine said.

Religious activities at houses of worship have some exemptions from public health requirements based on recent state and federal court decisions, he said.

“At this point, we have some of our highest rates of infection in our school-aged populations, despite schools doing a good job in the school setting,” Devine said. “It’s events like this that lead to new cases and new outbreaks. That’s why we have a self-certification. We want to make sure people have events like this safely.”

SJBPH, which does complaint-based enforcement, had not received a complaint about the event itself as of Monday and did not plan to take further action, he said.

When asked how he planned to represent a community with varied concerns and opinions about COVID-19 policies, Petty focused on giving families more options.

“I hope to give students and parents as much voice as possible in how they express their values,” Petty said. “I want to give choice, not requirements.”