Ohio Private School Students Denied Reenrollment After Moms’ ‘Inflammatory’ Campaign Against ‘Indoctrination’
Sam Dorman, Fox News, July 2, 2021
An Ohio private school is denying reenrollment to several students, alleging that their mothers breached part of their contract by leading a public campaign against the school’s purported attempt to “indoctrinate” students with left-wing ideas.
The decision capped off months of efforts by parents Andrea Gross and Amy Gonzalez to probe Columbus Academy’s (CA) activities, which allegedly included divisive concepts about race and anti-conservative sentiment.
Fox News has obtained copies of the school’s letters notifying Gross and Gonzalez, who lead the Pro-CA Coalition, of the decision. The school, which includes pre-K through 12th grade students, effectively expelled two of Gross’ children and one of Gonzalez’s. According to the moms, their coalition includes hundreds of other CA parents who are also concerned about recent changes to school materials.
The mothers argued to Fox News that CA was unjustly punishing their children for their parents’ activism. School officials, however, maintain that the two moms’ conduct blocked the type of “positive and constructive working relationship” they agreed to in the enrollment agreement they signed.
The letters show Columbus Academy leaders alleging that moms had “pursued a course of action that has been anything but civil, respectful and faithful to the facts.”
“Instead,” they add, “you have engaged in a campaign against Columbus Academy through a sustained, and increasingly inflammatory, series of false and misleading attacks on the School and its leadership.”
“Your actions caused pain, and even fear for physical safety, among students, families, faculty, and staff,” said CA Head of School Melissa Soderberg and Board of Trustees President Jonathan Kass.
It’s unclear what all the incidents the school was referring to, but Kass and Soderberg alluded to several examples, including a purported attempt to redirect donations and withhold tuition from the school – an accusation that Gross and Gonzalez deny.
During an episode of the “Blunt Force Truth” podcast in April, Gonzalez and Gross had entertained the idea of withholding payments after suggestions from the podcast’s hosts.
“These people on the left are just like everybody else on the left. You can’t reason with them. You can’t deal with them. The only thing you can do is defeat them,” the host said. Gross appeared to say, “We’re trying.”
At another point, host Mark Young said: “You have 400 families or 400 parents that are in your group – has anyone ever thought of the idea of escrowing all of your payments into an escrow account en masse until you get accountability and get answers?”
Gross replied: “No, that’s a good idea.”
The two moms told Fox News the school’s tuition-related accusations were likely also referring to a May 19 Zoom call but maintained that they never proceeded with any formal implementation.
Two other CA parents who also belong to Pro-CA coalition told Fox News the idea was mentioned as a form of brainstorming rather than a formal proposal. “[I]t was nothing that we had organized or coerced anybody to do — and in fact I completely forgot about it,” said one parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Gross and Gonzalez’s battle is one that’s being fought by many parents across the U.S. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, parents have reported being blindsided by racial content and encountering road blocks while seeking accountability from administrators.
The changes are especially personal for Gross and Gonzalez, who say their children have been attending CA since they were little. Not only did Gross’ husband graduate from CA in the ’80s, her daughter was also about to enter her junior year when the school declined reenrollment.
“My whole family loves Columbus Academy,” said Gross’ husband, Michael, in a statement to Fox News.
“My years there and the school’s focus on academic excellence really shaped who I am today. My closest friends are my classmates from Columbus Academy. Unfortunately, in the last few years, I have witnessed the school shift the focus from academic excellence and stray from their ‘quest for the best’ to one of intolerance and divisiveness. It is sad to watch the school lose its way because it is a great institution with 110 years of outstanding history.”
Schools like CA have generally defended so-called “anti-racist” or equity-focused content as ways to enhance inclusion among students. However, parents’ complaints and school materials often reveal highly controversial content that critics say causes even more division.
The Pro-CA Coalition has collected a series of signed affidavits attesting to not only left-leaning ideas about race, but anti-conservative bias among faculty as well.
One reads: “As loyal Columbus Academy (CA) community members for the past 11 years, we feel obligated to share recent experiences that concern us as they demonstrate a shift away from an inclusive, safe and positive learning environment toward a politically charged, polarized one.”
“What we are witnessing,” adds the affidavit with a redacted author, “is not in alignment with the nurturing school we have known for so long; indeed the emotional impact on our child compels us to communicate.” It goes on to claim that the signatory’s child “has learned not to share his opinion.” It claims that the “recent overarching political tone has left him feeling depressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, and silenced.”
When Gross and Gonzalez met with the school earlier this year, they presented a long list of purported incidents but claim they didn’t receive an adequate response.