Tonight I witnessed a stark contrast between courage and cowardice. The display was witnessed at the May 8, 2017 Kingsburg Joint Union High School board meeting. At issue was a quest by two upstanding citizens who selflessly gave their time, energy and compassion for young girls as counselors in the Ambassadors of Compassion program at the high school. On April 3, 2017 nineteen names were submitted to the board for consideration, with a request to approve all 19 of the desperately needed volunteers. In each case, the volunteers had passed a background check, for which they paid $80, and had already forged relationships with the students over the preceding four weeks. That notwithstanding, instead of accepting the recommendation of the Principal and Grant Theisen (AOC Director), the Board of Trustees opted to go into closed session, ostensibly to consider the merits of each volunteer. In reality, such meetings are often designed to give cover to those wishing to bare false witness, without fear of challenge by the victim of such gossip. And so it was on the evening of April 3, 2017 when three of the 19 volunteers were found to be unfit, including Cindy Bishop and MaryLou Swenning.
For Cindy Bishop and MaryLou Swenning, the rejection came like a kick in the stomach. “Why?”, “What have I done wrong?”, “When and how did I offend the board members?”, were the questions that played over and over in the minds of these ladies, every day for the last month. Both ladies have a magnificent history of volunteerism and outreach to “at risk” students and others for decades. Cindy Bishop has raised three amazing daughters who attended Kingsburg Schools. In addition, she has served as a “Big Sister”, served on the Reedley College Ag Advisory Board and taught young adults as an adjunct instructor at the community college level. Even now, she is hosting an international student on the exchange program. Mrs. Swenning has a similar background of volunteerism and student exchange programs. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, these women of exemplary character were rejected. All are successful women who serve as role models for the young girls of Kingsburg.
Tonight, Cindy Bishop and MaryLou Swenning addressed the board with a degree of poise, dignity and courage that made the board members look small and petty in comparison. MaryLou Swenning began her comment with a request that if she had offended any of the trustees, she earnestly sought their forgiveness; confessing she could not think of a single infraction that would warrant such a biting dismissal of her worth. Now that is turning the other cheek! Still these spineless individuals, led by Mr. Lunde, refused to offer any answers beyond, “we can’t discuss it because it was done in closed session.” When asked for clarification of the standard by which they measured volunteers, the trustees offered none. Yet, when asked if they would reconsider their decision, they refused.
So, tonight these brave men of stalwart character, cower in the face of open debate. They entertain secret reasons for rejecting these women while denying them the opportunity to defend their good names. Ultimately, those with the most to lose were the students at KHS who have lost two outstanding mentors. Not calculated are the future volunteers who witnessed this situation and will decline volunteering in the future based on this demonstration of poor leadership. Sadly, I have voted for many of these cowardly lions in the past, but will not make that mistake again.