Roper: When a school board member actually puts kids first

Curt Hier vs. the Slate Valley School District

Curt Hier

by Rob Roper

Curt Hier, a public school history teacher and debate coach for thirty-five years and who now runs a business helping students get into college, was elected to the Slate Valley School Board this past March. Hier’s background gives him more insight into the actual workings of the public school system than the average school board member has, as well as personal relationships with students and teachers. Hier ran for office intent on fixing problems – something that has since put him at odds with the public education bureaucracy.

One immediate problem Hier brought to the attention of the school board was a teacher with an alleged history of physically assaulting students, including one incident that involved pushing a student with severe disabilities over a chair.

Another involved the “resignation” of a well-liked special education teacher, who Hier says was given an ultimatum of “quit or be fired” because she refused to sign off on false paperwork regarding what special education services students were actually receiving. According to Hier, he suspects that the school administration wanted to falsely report that some students were receiving special education services when, in fact, they were not in order for the school to keep receiving the higher levels of special ed funding. The teacher wouldn’t play ball, so was given an offer she couldn’t refuse, as the saying goes.

When school officials, the superintendent, and his fellow school board members seemed more intent on burying Hier’s concerns in a quagmire of bureaucratic stonewalling and memory holing, he took them public in letters to the editor of his local papers and on social media, and began his own investigations, including multiple FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests regarding the incidents in question.

This led to students, ex-students and parents sharing their own stories of corruption, mistreatment, and incompetence in the school district, including a new area of concern for Hier regarding allegations of harmful “seclusion and restraint” incidents (ie. locking kids in closets euphemistically called “Blue Rooms”) – a problem that is so horrific and becoming so pervasive in Vermont’s public schools that legislation was introduced in 2023 (H.409) to ban the practice.

Hier suspects that these incidents are happening in his school district more often than is being reported – which in and of itself is a violation of state law.

(BTL covered this story back in March. See: Yes, public schools should not lock five-year-olds in closets.)

It also led to Hier’s fellow school board members calling for his resignation because, well, no good deed goes unpunished. (He’s not resigning, happy to say!) And, in a formal letter to the school board, Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell opined, “I am gravely concerned about one individual board member’s behavior, that of Curtis Hier. It is my opinion that he is purposefully and relentlessly trying to destabilize the school district, create unrest, ‘harassing’ employees and striking fear in an organization.”

Well, yeah, if the organization has been physically abusing children and defrauding the taxpayers I can see where they might be in fear of someone shining a light on their improprieties. Where’s my world’s smallest violin?

The school board chair at their July 31 meeting reprimanded Hier, “Curt, you openly boast on social media that you’re a board member just trying to make a difference… and you have, in a very negative way. Many school board members feel unsettled by your presence. Current and former staff have expressed concern that they might be your next target…. The two primary goals for our superintendent are to increase staff retention and improve school culture. Curt, your assertions have eroded the trust of staff, depleted the morale of leadership, and called into question the integrity of the superintendent… directly undermining her ability to achieve these goals.”

But, as Hier pointed out in a social media post, the superintendent was not doing a stellar job in meeting those goals even before his inquiries began. Per Public School Review, the Slate Valley Union District has only 26% of its student population doing math proficiently, and just 41% reading proficiently, which puts the district in the bottom half of performers statewide.

Perhaps what is undermining student outcomes, and leading to poor morale and a lack of trust from the community is a failure of leadership to address – or even acknowledge — the concerns Hier is raising (and probably a number he is not). I for one am grateful Curt is sticking to his guns and continuing to blow those whistles.

Unfortunately, while Hier’s decision to put kids before politics is somewhat unique in our education landscape, the problems he is shining a light on are not. Student scores in Vermont have been dropping for over a decade, mental health problems for students have been on the rise along with violence in classrooms, and proper staffing to deal with these issues isn’t there.

The system is a hot mess. A dumpster fire. Choose your favorite metaphor for disaster. We need more Curt Hiers out there putting pressure on our school officials to come clean about what’s really happening inside those buildings so that the problems can be solved.

A story today in VT Digger detailing how the Alburgh School Board issued a vote of no confidence in their superintendent due to “about a dozen Alburgh students … not receiving special education services and had not even been assigned to special educators,” gives me hope that this is a growing trend.

Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics,

6 replies »

  1. Vermont is ripe for alternatives to the socialistic public school system. Just keep in mind that wherever the funding comes from, so does the control. Vouchers only shift from a socialist system to a fascist system. Both put the state in control, even if one is private ownership.

    It is impossible to have a nation or state governed by the people when the state has control of shaping the thinking.

    The only way to avoid that is for citizens to take ownership and control of education with a truly free-market system. Every effort, by parents, churches and other entities, to create free-market schooling is a step in a good direction. Don’t wait for the state to give you permission to train your child, find or build an alternative that is best for your child.

    • Re: “Vermont is ripe for alternatives to the socialistic public school system. Just keep in mind that wherever the funding comes from, so does the control. Vouchers only shift from a socialist system to a fascist system. Both put the state in control, even if one is private ownership.”

      Mark: The ‘control’ you cite is unconstitutional. The problem is lawlessness. Not the law.

      In the 2001 Zelman v Simmons-Harris, Cleveland School Choice case, for example, the SCOTUS opinion articulates the point as well as any. That in an educational ‘free market’, the benefit of a publicly funded voucher used in a parent’s voluntary exchange for educational goods and services – whatever it is:

      “… is reasonably attributable to the individual recipient, not to the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits.”

      The more important question we must answer now is – how do we reasonably deal with this lawlessness – corrupt as it apparently is?

  2. For the kids…what a concept.
    Just one of the many destructive moves by our selected representatives was the acceptance of public employees unions and “collective” bargaining. Essentially, it’s the union bribing our so called representatives against the taxpayers — a total conflict of interest.

  3. Re: We need more Curt Hiers out there putting pressure on our school officials to come clean about what’s really happening inside those buildings so that the problems can be solved. – Rob Roper,

    It’s been almost 20 years since I served on a public-school board and on the national Workforce Investment Board (liaison between businesses and schools), and nothing has changed. We see reasonable people come and go… and nothing has changed.

    Case in point, anecdotal as it may be, as an employer, my first hire (in 1976) was a recently graduated young man from our local high school. His senior year was spent at one of our local technical centers in a carpentry program. But I quickly learned that he couldn’t read fractions on a tape measure nor read an advertisement on a matchbook cover. My second hire – ditto. Suffice it to say, these kids were hard workers, more than willing and able to learn. We built a house together.

    But these kids had been forsaken by the same education system we have today. And nothing has changed.

    We know ‘what’s really happening inside those buildings’. They are the same problems, year in and year out. And the problems aren’t being ‘solved’. Nothing has changed.

    The problem is as old as time. We have a totalitarian bureaucracy on our hands. A monopoly – not indistinct from a monarchy. And the majority of our electorate is either employed by it, related to someone employed by it, or working for someone employed by it.

    It’s the public education ‘system’ that’s the problem. Not the people in it. Unless and until the system changes to an honest educational free market, nothing will change. For the more than forty years I’ve raised this point, and no matter how many Curt Hiers come and go, nothing has changed.

    My solution? How much time do you have?