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Board of Ed hears from student protests on Media Center changes
August 28, 2019

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The Austintown Board of Education heard from delegation of students concerned over changes with the Fitch Media Center. Media Center Specialist Patricia Hartsough's position had been eliminated and the Media Center was going to remain open, but ran by Fitch English teachers.

Fitch juniors Alex Butrick and Daniel Varley were among the students attending the Aug. 22 board meeting. The two had sought signatures to petition the board to reinstate Hartsough.

"We got 85 signatures on a paper petition in just a day-and-a-half," said Butrick. "We reached out to everyone and even have the support of Ohio 13th District Congressional candidate Robert Santos."

He said something had to be done and he and Varley were committed to do what they could. They both felt the loss of a dedicated staff member in the Media Center is a detriment to the academic success and the personal development of the students at Fitch.

"The Media Center was a very safe place to go because Mrs. Hartsough kept things under control," Butrick said. "The alternative system is to have teachers run it. It is not a teacher's job."

One thing that was mentioned involved the books in the Media Center. In recent years, Hartsough brought in 1,612 new books and none cost the district or taxpayers a penny. In fact, Hartsough actually obtained over 900 of those books herself.

Because the Fitch students were behind the effort, Hartsough felt she should speak as well. She said highlighted the fact she always made time for a student.

"The students aren't here today to fight for hoodies or anything like that," she said. "They are because they want to keep their Media Center."

She said whenever a student has a bad day, or feels picked on, they need a safe place to go and someone to talk to. She said both were provided in the Media Center.

"I always had a flexible schedule," she said about being there for the kids.

Board President Don Sherwood brought Fitch Senior Principal Tim Kelty to the mic to explain what was happening in the media centers

"This has been a difficult thing to do," Kelty said. "We are going to staff the center with our English teachers five days a week, every period. We will have study halls in the Media Center to give students a research time."

He added that not one book or piece of material had been moved out of the Media Center and the center will not be moved to any other location. The neighboring room in the center, Kelty said, would remain as a safe haven for students who need a safe place to hang out.

To view the on-line petition the students came up with, visit http://chng.it/GZhRzJWf. The petition includes all of the details that were known by Butrick and Varley prior to the board meeting.

On another issue, township resident Gary Scurti was among a couple of Fitness Center members who were upset over the closing of the center to township residents.

"I received the notice that the Fitness Center would be closed permanently," he said. Money was given to pay off the Fitness Center. It was donated by the community."

Other concerns included what would happen to paid up memberships that still had time remaining. Sherwood said there would be refunds.

Sherwood said there were a lot of factors that came together for the decision to close the center.

"This board made the decision based on feedback from a couple of factors," he told those in attendance. "We have a lot more students in the center. It has become a safety issue. We are a campus for students first and foremost. Our mandate is to protect our students."

The board then adjourned without commenting further on either issue.

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