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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) — Instead of being in the classroom, many Hoosier children are learning 100% online for now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But in one Central Indiana school district, it’s the teachers who have to go back to school.

Wednesday was Day 5 of classes at Hamilton Southeastern High School, but Julie Alano was the only one in her classroom. All of her students are learning virtually due to the pandemic.

“It is really weird, but I’m still able to connect to the students, and it is tricky and it does take a lot of time to get good at managing a virtual classroom,” Alano said.

Watch her for about 15 minutes working on two screens, and you’ll see her whiz between Zoom meetings and virtual breakout groups. She also makes sure her students communicate with each other on their work.

“There’s a lot going on. You’ve got the students students on a screen, you’ve got what you’re trying to present, you’re trying to take attendance, you’re trying to ‘Oh. a student can’t get in, because they’re having technical difficulties.'”

On Wednesday, in one of her computer science classes, students brainstormed application ideas to create. Each class Wednesday was 25 minutes long. Alano said, at first, some of the other teachers had to deal with Zoom-bombing.

“The students Zoom-bombing each other’s classes because the students have the link to their classes, and then they’re sharing it with their friends, and then their friend Zoom-bombs. We have pretty much mitigated that issue. We have waiting rooms, so you only admit students in the class.”

Alano is in her 23rd year as a teacher. Since her students aren’t in front of her, are they attentive and doing their work?

“Some of them are really excited to get back to at least communicating with others, and having something more to do because some of them have been home and haven’t had much to do, so they have been really good at keeping up and being on there. My attendance has been perfect today,” Alano said.

At Southeastern Elementary School, Courtney Cohron is teaching third-graders virtually for now. Cohron said her normally quiet, shy students are more engaged and outspoken online.

“Because virtual gives them a platform to be able to share what they’re thinking. Whether that’s just speaking through the screen or whether that’s typing something down,” Cohron said.

The Hamilton Southeastern School Board was to discuss Wednesday night the ways to bring students back to classrooms in person safely. The latest plan before the meeting was to have students possibly come back after Labor Day with a split of virutal and in-class learning.

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) — A new virtual learning option for the children of some Hamilton Southeastern teachers, staff and faculty has upset some parents of students in the district.

HSE is providing temporary student supervision of virtual learning at school buildings for children of all teachers, staff and faculty in grades K-6.

The supervised virtual learning will start Aug. 3 and run through Sept. 4 at each elementary school and at HSE Intermediate/Junior High.

Jaclyn McTaggart is an ER nurse and told News 8 her two kids have been doing virtual learning since the spring semester. McTaggart doesn’t want the same for them starting in the fall semester.

“It was really a challenge. I feel like the kids didn’t get much of an education, and everyone was kind of rolling with it,” said McTaggart. She said she would’ve liked the option of bringing her kids to school for assistance with virtual learning also.

McTaggart said many students cannot navigate virtual learning and parents may not be able to stay home to help due to work. She also discussed how mental health is weighing on families and believes school can be a safe haven.

“It is a benefit and perk to the staff, but this was funded by (tax) dollars that was supposed to spread out to everyone. Spaces that are supposed to be open to everyone,” McTaggart said.

HSE is supporting teachers who have to teach virtual learning from their classrooms.

Teachers are reporting back to school after families provided feedback of more scheduled virtual instruction, student engagement and increased rigor, according to the school system.

“These students will still follow along with their assigned teacher via their Canvas Learning Platform. They are not being provided a separate teacher. The permanent substitutes that are conducting the supervision are already being paid and are available to provide this service. This offering is not an additional cost to the district,” said HSE public information officer Emily Abbotts.

Non-staff members will have the option to place their kids into childcare at the local YMCA for special virtual instruction during those four weeks, but some parents believe having to pay up to $187 a week is costly. McTaggart hopes HSE Schools can re-evaluate the virtual option plan in the future.

“It is a cost and that again is another point of this disparity of why do our public dollars get to pay for only the teacher’s children to have supervised supervision and assistance and not the public dollars to get to pay for all children to have supervision and assistance?” asked McTaggart.

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) — Brittany Kelly is walking down the fairway at Ironwood Golf Club, just a 3 wood away from her parents’ backyard, with a completely new perspective on life.

“I want to make sure I’m here for a reason, to help as many people as I can through this journey that I have had to go through,” Kelly said. 

Kelly, a former prep golf standout at Hamilton Southeastern High School and collegiate star at Ball State University, is a gift to golf and to aspiring young girls everywhere.

Kelly is the PGA assistant golf professional at Woodland Country Club in Carmel, Ind. — coming off an incredible run of golf herself in 2019.

Quickly, let me rattle off what Kelly just pulled off:

Those were just the major achievements. 

Behind the scenes during the PGA Cup event this past fall, however, another battle was brewing. Kelly was dealing with a pain that wouldn’t go away and after undergoing surgery during the winter to remove a mass half the size of a football, her worst fear was confirmed: cancer.

“It was Stage 1, Grade 3, clear-cell ovarian cancer,” Kelly said. “They decided to start my first treatment at the end of February, six-cycles (in total).” 

Kelly quickly shared her story and the fight ahead. A battle cry of “BK Strong” spread across the central Indiana golf community via social media. 

These days, she can get a few swings in ahead of the home stretch at the hospital. Her final treatment is right around the corner later this June.

“Oh, my gosh, she has been through a ton and she has handled it so well,” said Brittany’s mother, Joni Kelly. “Much better than I could have ever handled it.”

Brittany’s father, Ken Kelly, said, “Brittany, all of her life, has been a competitor and a fighter.”

A few weeks after her final treatment, Kelly hopes to return to her home away from home, Woodland Country Club. July 1 is her target date to get back to helping members improve their games and to start tinkering again with her own swing. 

During our visit recent visit together, Kelly’s boss at Woodland, Patrick White, put together a pump-up video for her treatment. It is clear, those closest to Brittany Kelly can’t wait to hear her yell out a simple phrase — “I’m back.”

“That is what I’ve been waiting for,” Kelly said. “I want to get back. I want to see them (Woodland members). I want to be back to normal.“

“They’re awesome people and Woodland is a special club. I have a great staff, my boss is absolutely amazing.”

There is a leaderboard out there of folks who show us how to live. And Brittany Kelly — is right near the top. 

Fishers parking complaints

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — Parking violations in the Brooks Chase housing development sparked safety concerns among residents. Improperly parked cars often prevent school buses and emergency vehicles from turning onto narrow roads, they said.

“We’ve seen it where the buses get stuck,” said Richard Krieg, whose family moved to the neighborhood in 2009. “We’ve seen buses where they haven’t been able to make the turn. It has just become more and more of a problem with people not paying attention to the parking rules.”

A photo taken Monday morning and provided by Krieg shows a school bus with its brake lights on, stopped beside two cars parked illegally near a corner.

Children in the neighborhood are sometimes dropped off at different locations when school buses are unable to reach their regular stops, families told News 8.

Krieg’s 8-year-old daughter had once been left with a stranger at an unfamiliar stop because her bus driver had altered his route upon reaching a narrow road blocked by improperly parked cars, he said.

Although his daughter, then 5 years old, was unharmed, the incident sent his wife into “crisis mode” and highlighted potential safety issues caused by parking violations, Krieg told News 8.

He and his neighbors had unsuccessfully confronted individual drivers known to ignore parking signs, they said.

Residents had also contacted police, public works officials and a local homeowners association with their concerns.

On Monday evening, News 8 crews observed multiple vehicles parked near the intersection of Anthem Avenue and Allegiance Drive in restricted areas marked with “No Parking Here To Corner” signs. No parking tickets were visible on the vehicles.

“I’ve never seen a car ticketed,” said Krieg. “We don’t know who to reach out to anymore.”

Armando Solis, 15, said he had also never seen a parking ticket on an improperly parked vehicle in the neighborhood. 

A black sedan was parked Monday evening in front of his family’s home, next to a red and white “No Parking” sign.”

“This happens a lot here,” Solis said, pointing to the car. “Our bus [driver] had to let us go [at a different location once] because there was a big semi-truck parked right there and [the school bus] couldn’t get through.”

Walking more than half a mile home from alternate bus stops was especially frustrating in the winter, he added.

Some bus drivers had been advised the Brooks Chase development was a “nightmare” to navigate, according to Krieg.

Representatives for the Fishers Police Department and Hamilton Southeastern Schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment from News 8.

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.