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FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Hamilton Southeastern Schools Superintendent Allen Bourff to step down.

They’re criticizing how he wants the Black Lives Matter Movement addressed in classrooms.

The petition created by parent Amber Welch calls for Bourff’s replacement to be, in her words, someone of higher character, preferably a person of color. Welch also said current events and history need to be taught from a more honest perspective.

An email Bourff sent to faculty surfaced on an a Hamilton Southeastern parent Facebook page. Welch said the part where Bourff called the Black Lives Matter Movement political bothered several parents.


“I have heard from a number of parents who are concerned that we are advancing the cause of Black Lives Matter, a political movement within the country. They contend that their children are being indoctrinated rather than taught and that this effort has been a distraction from the academic purpose of school. Where is the line between teaching about a political movement and promoting that political movement? Before we go forward, let us suspend the argument that Black Lives Matter is a social issue, or concept rather than a political movement. If we can for the sake of discussion that it is a political issue, then my question takes on a great deal of significance, because as school officials we cannot expose our politics, and we cannot advance a political cause through our work with students. However, to teach students the origins of a political cause is to explore social concepts and events that brought it to the political arena. To teacher students the implications of a current political cause is to examine with them how social concepts or issues framed or have helped to frame it.

“This practice is neither novel nor unique to HSE. For many years, teachers here and across the country have been leading students through discussions, research, debates, and book studies on issues such as women’s suffrage, the Abolitionist movement, immigration, abortion, drug abuse, and preservation of the environment. For more than two decades we have studied a bold political movement that change the world … the American Revolution.

“Moreover, in recent years, The Indiana Academic Standards have been revised to include the following: ‘Explain the efforts of African Americans, Native Americans, LatinX, and LGBTQ, communities to assert their social and civil rights.’

“Academic knowledge is crystalized when it can be applied to issues, events, or causes beyond the classroom. One of the purposes of academic preparation in the public schools is to equip students to assume their place as citizens in their community, as well as the world. We are confident that our students will become contribution citizens of the world, and preparing them by examining political issues is but one means of preparing them for their role.

“But again, I raise the question of where that line is between teaching and promoting. Jennifer Hitchcock, who teacher AP Government and Politics for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia suggests the following strategies when teaching about political issues:

Plan your outcome. Decide in advance key outcomes. How does this connect to your course? What do you plan to achieve? How will you structure and evaluate the experience? How long can you spare? What do you want students to be able to do? Is it appropriate to share this learning external to your class in some way to promote student efficacy? Can you bring in external experts, maybe from your school or community?

Build a foundation. Survey the political issue for firm connections to content, curating the underlying curriculum so that your direct instruction naturally supports further student inquiry. The presentation of that content may be through large-group discussions, recorded lecture, targeted readings, and things of the like.

Allow students to dive deeper. The critical work is that students do their own research. Research is a skill that is necessary from the hard sciences to the humanities. A great resource to use is a school librarian, who may be able to discuss news-literacy skills and present academic databases. In addition to these resources, students may also want to bring news-media or social- media reporting into the discussion to allow for comparison.

Facilitate student ownership. Enabling student dialogue and deliberation is democratic work. Structure debates, interviews, mock trials, fishbowls, and small-group dialogues allow students to process their research in the context of the foundational instruction. Here, reflection is more important than consensus. Students should produce a snapshot of their thinking as it evolves in the student dialogue that may be helpful in directing debriefs.

Consider further action. Democratic skills should aim to terminate in concrete action. This could range from less time-intensive activities like creating informative social-media campaigns or writing a letter to a newspaper or policymaker to far more intensive endeavors. There are many organizations that provide materials to help teachers try these activities in class. Look to organizations like Generation Citizen’s Civics Day or Action Civics, the Civic Action Project from the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Mikva Challenge, Civics Unplugged, and Youth As Civics Experts. If this is too far toward a civics class, look to what your students can do inside of your own content that galvanizes the relationship between your class and how it is applied in our communities.

“If you are interested in reading further, this appeared in an Ed Week article on October 12, 2020, and it was titled ‘Politics Belongs in the Classroom.’

“It is not our place as educators to advance political causes. I said at the onset of this message that there is disagreement as to whether Black Lives Matter is a social issue or a political issue. It is clear that many have moved it to the political arena and contend that teachers should not be promoting it. I am requesting that if you work with the topic, treat it as a political issue, and as you do with other political issues, teach it without advancing it or promoting your personal views.

“This is a trying time for the world, and to be an educator does not shield us from the difficulties. In fact, because you are exposed to the stressors of the many families with whom you work, I contend that you may have challenges multiplied by a factor equal to the number of your students — both in-person and virtual. My purpose in sending the above message is to prevent one more stressful issue from distracting you from your daily mission. I conclude with a sincere thank you to each of you.


“All Bourff”

Welch said, “This is not who we want to be as a district, this is not how I want my children as a parent, to be taught is an acceptable way to approach a subject and life is not a political issue.”

The parent said discussing the issue with faculty and students would have been a perfect opportunity for Hamilton Southeastern to use its equity officer. “Don’t just hire someone in that position to be able to say ‘oh HSE has an equity officer’ she is so valuable of a resource,” Welch said.

The superintendent apologized to faculty in a follow up email:

“Dear Faculty:

“Black Lives Matter.

“At Hamilton Southeastern Schools, we will not debate the humanity of any individual.

“We have emphasized that Black Lives Matter, and this remains an emphasis in our equity work as we move towards creating and sustaining safe places for our students to learn and teachers to teach. 

“The intent of yesterday’s letter to the faculty was designed to provide instructional strategies to discuss and teach Black Lives Matter, one of the most significant issues of our time. I understand that the impact was hurtful, and for that I apologize.

“The letter was designed to provide guidance for teachers to lead these discussions and to assist students as they develop their own positions on this important social issue. 

“That we have families that do not wish for us to have these discussions has been made clear. However, we are limiting our students if we do not provide them the tools to explore a social cause, research its origin, and understand its significance. 

“We have staff that work every day to prepare our students to assume their places as local and global contributors. Anything less is breaking our compact with the community. 

“I am not requesting that teachers abandon their passion for a social cause, that social issues not be discussed, or that students not be allowed to express themselves. On the contrary, I am requesting that we affirm publicly through our instructional practices that Black Lives Matter, that all humans have value,and that we stand in solidarity against injustice, racism, and violence, at all times. 

“When that affirmation is challenged by those who contend that we have overstepped our mission, I will be able to say that our attention has been on the development of thoughtful processes enabling our students to positively influence their community. 


“Allen Bourff’

A second online petition has also been started, this one in support of the Hamilton Southeastern faculty’s right to teach and talk about the Black Lives Matter Movement. That petition has close to 900 signatures.

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — One of the first schools in central Indiana to start the fall semester with online-only classes will soon open its classrooms to welcome students.

Hamilton Southeastern School Board voted Thursday night to have prekindergarten through Grade 4 to return to the classrooms on Tuesday. Two weeks later, students in Grade 5 and higher will return to the physical school.

Half of the students will go to school in person Monday and Tuesday, while the other half will go into the classrooms on Thursday and Friday. They will alternate Wednesdays. About 15% of students are expected to continue receiving virtual education.

Parents at the school board meeting — and others protesting outside the administration office on Cumberland Road — expressed frustration that the district has had only virtual education so far.

The meeting room was limited to a specific number of people because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch the video to hear from school district leaders and parents.

Coronavirus links

Indiana coronavirus timeline

With information from the Indiana Department of Health through March 4, 2021, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — Hamilton Southeastern Schools students are learning virtually during this stage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fishers High School senior Lauren Castillo, 18, and her classmates are learning virtually.

“I’d be OK with staying on virtual. But, I think I’d like to go back just to see my friends and actually come in contact with my teachers that I haven’t actually met in person,” Castillo told News 8.

On Tuesday, the Fishers Health Department lowered the COVID-19 community risk level from Level 3, known as “orange significant,” to Level 2, “yellow moderate.”

The department also recommends Fishers-based schools reinstate or continue full in-person learning for elementary schools. The department advises middle schools and high schools may reinstate or continue full in-person learning if the same students can be kept together through the school day.

Castillo said, “I think it’s a better idea to have the younger students go back in person because I feel like it’s really hard to teach kids in elementary school. They’re really hard to stay focused.”

Some parents in the area do not feel the same way.

“I don’t agree,” parent Shawnte Riggs told News 8. “I believe the children should stay home until we get this coronavirus understood a little bit more.”

Emily Pace Abbots, director of school and community relations for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, said in a statement: “At this time, PreK-4 will be going back to school on September 8 at 50% capacity. In addition, as it stands currently, 5-12 will remain 100% virtual. But we have a special School Board meeting taking place on Thursday at 6p. A change in phases will take a vote from the board, so I am unable to speculate what they may decide to do. However, we have tried to align our Operations Plan to that of the Fishers Health Department’s COVID Risk Rating system.”

Coronavirus links

Indiana coronavirus timeline

With information from the Indiana Department of Health through March 4, 2021, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — Hamilton Southeastern is the second major school district in the Indianapolis area to announce it will begin the upcoming school year with online-only instruction during the coronavirus pandemic.

A third Indianapolis-area district, Westfield Washington, also is re-evaluating its reopening plan.

Hamilton Southeastern said an increase in infections in the community is the reason for its changes. The Fishers-based district is set to start online instruction Aug. 6 and continue it through Labor Day, Sept. 7.

The Hamilton County district based in Fishers announced Friday it will have a reopening plan similar to the Back on Track, phased reopening plan implemented by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

“Conditions will be monitored carefully and the district will not move to the next phase until identified markers established in collaboration with the Fishers Health Department have been met,” according to information emailed from Emily Pace Abbotts, the district’s director of school and community relations.

Families will received the four-phase reopening plan by Wednesday. The plan will not affect plans already in place for athletic and extracurricular programs in the Hamilton Southeastern district.

Abbotts said HSE also is working with the YMCA to develop a plan to make child care available for families who may need that service.

“We understand this is a change to our original plan, but we value the health and safety of our students, staff and families, and believe this will better meet the needs of the school community. We greatly appreciate your patience and flexibility during this time,” the email from Abbotts said.

Washington Township Schools in Marion County announced Monday that students will begin the school year completely online due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Also on Friday, Westfield Washington Schools in Hamilton County announced it’s re-evaluating its reopening plan. School leaders are now considering alternating school days for all students. Currently, Westfield Washington is offering in-person learning with a virtual option. The school year is expected to start Aug. 13. The district says more information for parents and students will be available next week.

Coronavirus links

Indiana coronavirus timeline

With information from the Indiana Department of Health through March 4, 2021, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — JoJo Ramey recalls the weekend trip she took to Georgia this winter for the Short Course Junior Championships, a swim-meet that she thought assumed would be similar to the dozens of other races she’s competed in throughout her career.

She said, “I was doing homework all the way up until when I left to swim that race.”

As a freshman at Fishers High School, her biggest concern was her first round of final exams. So, Ramey was hitting the books in between heats but apparently wasn’t too preoccupied to put up a lifetime best performance in the pool.

Ramey said, “I saw my time, and that was what surprised me the most because I dropped almost 2 seconds off my best time before that and I ended up getting the cut by like a second and a half.”

She had qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the 200 backstroke event on her very first try. She may act like it’s no big deal, but at 14 years old, JoJo became one of the youngest swimmers to punch their ticket to Omaha.

Joe Keller, head swim coach at Fishers, said, “JoJo has brought a culture changing type attitude. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around an athlete like her in over 29 years of coaching. I’ve been around a lot of athletes but never one that has the type of day-in, day-out, great attitude, one of the hardest-working athletes I’ve ever coached.”

Now that this summer’s event has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ramey says, she will have more of an edge. Her time will hold, and she will still qualify for the 2021 Olympic Trials come next summer.

“I don’t want to just go to the Olympic Trials to go. I mean, the experience will be really cool, but I want to go there and actually do something.”

Ramey’s main focus for the season ahead is making the U.S. Junior National Team and making additional cuts in other events. She said, “When I’m older, yeah, I want to make it to the Olympics but I need to focus on high school.”

So, for now, no plans for Tokyo 2021, but this teenager from Fishers has already caught the attention of the sport’s biggest stars.

“I like just got done changing after I got my cut and I was standing there waiting for my coaches and I get a call, and I saw ‘Colorado Springs’ and was like this might be the Olympic Training Center, I don’t even know. And she was like, ‘Hi! This is Missy Franklin,’ and I was just like, ‘Oh, my!'” Ramey said. “She definitely gave me advice. She was just, like, keep on working hard, have dreams.”

Ramey’s dream is on pause for the time being, but this isn’t the last big splash we’ll see JoJo make.

Coronavirus links

Indiana coronavirus timeline

With information from the Indiana Department of Health through March 4, 2021, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — Someone finally picked up the phone to call Jeremy Chinn.

On the other end of Chinn’s phone line during the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft on April 24, the Carolina Panthers were busy congratulating their new draft pick.

“It is a dream come true,” Chinn said. “I have always loved this game since I was a little kid, and I have always wanted to compete at the highest level possible. Now, I have that opportunity to perform in front of thousands of fans in those big stadiums.”

Before Chinn could even dig up his old Fishers High School look for a “throwback” post via Panthers’ social media, a blessing from NFL royalty came down.

“Charles Woodsen tweeted, ‘Jeremy Chinn is looking like a steal’ … Tyrann (Mathieu) said, ‘I like this kid Chinn he has some dog, and Ryan Clark, he made a few tweets earlier in the process,” Chinn remarked glowingly. 

At Fishers High School, the only thing certain for Jeremy Chinn was the lack of attention around his playing career.

A tiny NCAA Division I program, Southern Illinois (FCS), helped make him a star at safety. 

Chinn’s work ethic helped create an identity at strong safety that was confirmed at the 2020 NFL Combine in February. One of the NFL’s top safety prospects in 2020 was a Saluki.

“How big of a long shot” coming out of high school? Chinn said. ”I was begging for one star, one half of a star, if I could get one. Any type of interest, from anyone. Looking back, it is something I was really kind of stressed about as a high schooler.”

“Hard work has definitely paid off since then.”

The scouts didn’t whiff the second time around. 

If only they listened to the man who these days, is just trying to fight back tears.

“You (Jeremy Chinn) deserve this opportunity and it is not just because of your athletic skill, but because of your character and your ability to focus on what is important,” Chinn’s former Fishers High School football coach Rick Wimmer said. “Those things are going to serve you well.”

Chinn and Carolina — a call — we can all cheer about. 

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) – Hamilton Southeastern Schools parents got to hear details on the district’s proposed redistricting plan Wednesday night. 

The plan was only presented and discussed. No vote was taken. Final approval is tentatively scheduled for a Dec. 12 school board meeting.

Among the highlights, the plan reduces the number of portable classrooms needed, allows for a more centralized pre-kindergarten program and accomplishes balanced intermediate and junior high enrollment.

Many parents though are not happy about the changes. Parent Shelley Harder said, “It’s not healthy for a kid to go to four schools in four years. That’s not OK. That to me is not a world-class education.”

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — For the second time since 2015, the Hamilton Southeastern school district will be reshuffling elementary school boundary lines. 

The plans to redistrict will impact thousands of students. 

More than 200 parents voiced their opinions at a meeting Wednesday evening at Fishers High School. 

Parents have been given three choices of how to redistrict HSE schools. 

Parents who spoke to News 8 said they are worried, some were even angry, about the choices that many told me offer no right answer. 

“People move to Hamilton Southeastern school district for the schools, and that’s really one of the reasons we moved here, for that specific school that our neighborhood is joined with,” said HSE parent Elizabeth Statzer. “I mean, it is what it is. Whatever is best for the kids.” 

The spark to redistrict the Hamilton Southeastern lines came as Fishers expanded east with the addition of a 13th elementary school, which is currently being built. The district wants to reduce overcrowding, address the use of portable classrooms and offer improved teacher-to-student ratios. 

“We keep changing as a community,” said William Carnes, the interim assistant superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern. “We’re a very dynamic community and as a result we need to rebalance our schools and make sure we have the proper numbers in each of our buildings.” 

Each of the three scenarios would move upwards of 3,500 kids to a new school. 

It’s a change many parents said they they feel is the wrong answer to a tough question. 

“This is just the wrong time in life to be taking kids away from their friends,” said HSE parent Amy Riebe. “As a parent, I struggle with losing all my connections. Now, all my kids are in high school with families that I don’t have a lot of interaction with like I’ve had for the last several years.”

Parents at the meeting offered their feedback about the pros and cons of each plan. 

It’s valued input both parents and the district hope will be put to good use when the final decision is made. 

“I really get this,” district leader Carnes said. “I understand that this is not about numbers. This is about children. We want to do what’s best for the children, and redistricting is the way that we get there.” 

“They keep talking about this being a ‘community process,'” said HSE parent Gwen Keller-Lusk. “But, the communities are built around the schools. When you take the parents that are involved in those schools and you rip them away from that community, you’re in chaos.”  

District officials hope to narrow the choices down to one scenario, which they told News 8 will likely be a variation of the current three scenarios after parental input is gathered. 

The board is set to vote on the final scenario Dec. 12.

A second community dialogue meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at Hamilton Southeastern High School.

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — The Hamilton Southeastern School Board is meeting Wednesday night to continue discussions on beginning a redistricting process.

The school system plans to redistrict kindergarten through eighth grade.

The district says some priorities will be keeping neighborhoods together and assigning students to schools closest to their homes.

The board will vote on the new boundaries on Dec. 12. They will be implemented for the 2019-20 school year.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Riverside Intermediate School, 11014 Eller Road. 

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — The Hamilton Southeastern School District is rolling out new elements to their mental health initiative as the 2018-2019 school year begins. 

Brooke Lawson, HSE Mental Health Coordinator, explained that in the 2018-2019 school year all schools will begin participating in Social Emotional Learning models and every student will receive a video introduction to their school guidance counselor. 

“Every student and family will receive one of these videos right before school starts,” explained Lawson,” just as a quick introduction as to who their school counselor is, what their role is and how they can help students be successful in college or career readiness, their social emotional learning and also their academics.” 

But the district’s mental health initiative covers more than just school guidance counselors. The district has prioritized putting licensed therapists in the schools to help diagnose students with mental health issues. 

“Insurance becomes a barrier at times so we wanted to make sure those barriers were taken away,” Lawson said. 

HSE School District partnered with Community Health Network in January 2016 and began their program. In the beginning, HSE Schools had 3 therapists for 6 of the district’s 21 buildings. 

“Really our goals were to make sure that any student in the district who was struggling with mental health issues were able to see a licensed counselor in their school building to receive support,” said Lawson. 

She said that milestone was achieved with in a few months, as the district hired 13 licensed mental health professionals to rotate between schools. HSE High School, Fishers High School, and the Focus Day Program have a full-time counselor, and the remaining 10 counselors cover the 18 middle and elementary schools. Lawson notes the district has also hired a crisis liaison who is allowed to visit students in the hospital and aid them and the district as those students return to school full-time.

“[The crisis liaison] can communicate with the family and the school and the student to make sure they feel comfortable returning to school and that they’re supported,” she said. 

Student visits with mental health professionals were voluntary, and the district began gathering statistics on the types of mental health issues present in the district at various schools and ages. 

In their report dated Fall 2017, the district reported 46% of students seeing a counselor were diagnosed with anxiety disorders, 20% with ADHD, 19% with depressive disorders, 9% with disruptive behavior disorders, and 4% with trauma-related disorders.  Therapists were serving 102 students at the end of Spring 2017. That jumped to 338 students in Fall 2017. Lawson explained the therapists would diagnose a student and help them overcome obstacles, but do not prescribe medication. 

Within a few months, students began to catch on. 

“Shortly after I started my job a student reached out to me and said I want  to start a mental health club. I said I don’t know what that is,  but I’ll help you with that,” said Lawson. 

The Mental Health club (Stigma-Free HSE and Stigma-Free Fishers) quickly grew to 75 -100 students and reached both high schools. Lawson says it has been instrumental in breaking down the stigma of mental health. 

“Hearing the conversations that happen at those student mental health clubs, that never would have been talked about when I was in high school. To hear the stories and the courage the kids have,” said Lawson. 

In addition to regular meetings and conversations, the students also made a public service announcement video featuring classmates, members of the community, and district leadership, 

“We have been very specific with our students, like never take this on yourself, you get an adult involved,” said Lawson. “The students have really taken it up on themselves to reduce the stigma, to educate their peers and their teachers.” 

Parents took on a more active role in the second year of the program, as the Social Emotional Learning program took root in some schools, like Fall Creek Elementary. The district was also awarded a $2.1 million dollar grant from the Lilly Endowment in October 2017 to fund the next four years of mental health programs. 

“Once a week the buildings that have rolled out that curriculum are sending home information to parents so they know what has been focused on at school and how they can reinforce that at home,” explained Lawson. 

After 18 months of development, Lawson says their program and the student-led Mental Health Clubs have caught the eye of neighboring schools. 

“We’ve helped area school districts in Avon, Noblesville get their clubs off the ground and running to be able to learn from us,” said Lawson. 

To learn more about HSE’s mental health initiative, visit their newly-launched website