March 30, 2024

As an elected official hearing community concerns that specifically mention my name, I feel compelled to confront and address what I have heard, lest someone else speak on my behalf. A few weeks ago, the church I attend delivered a message about the importance of Christians in leadership positions that gained some community attention. Out of that sermon came a public concern amplified by a few local media editorialists. I empathize with and would like to address the assumptions made about me and my intentions in this position as a school board member.

Some community members have expressed apprehensions that the likely consequence of electing Christian leaders is that faith will be forced onto students and staff in the form of policies like prayer in school or banning books that do not align with one certain faith. If this is your fear, I can only assure you that this is not my intent, nor do I believe any of my board colleagues to have this aim. I would actively stand in opposition to any attempts to force a singular faith into our public education system. As someone with a diverse religious and cultural upbringing, I respect and want to protect the sanctity of our education system as a place to challenge ideas, create a lifelong love of learning, and develop our students’ abilities to think critically. In order to accomplish these goals, our public schools must be places of political and religious neutrality.

I have been serving on the Lee’s Summit R7 School Board for two years now. I have not once used a religious justification for any decision or vote during this time. Claims made to the contrary indicating that a faith-based takeover has been the long game from the outset is political hyperbole and unsubstantiated rhetoric. Board members accused of this collusion do not always vote in concert with one another, as the focus of board decisions is around factors such as financial impacts, staff feedback, or educational priorities. We all have different opinions. The only controversial topics discussed during my tenure have been book reviews conducted by the board on four constituent-challenged books. I advocated to remove three of the four books for content-related concerns that included sexual abuse, emotional abuse, rape, bestiality, and graphic descriptions of genitalia, nudity, and intercourse down to the texture, temperature, and feel of the experience. My argument against this material focused on the educational relevance in a public school and suitability for students under the age of 18 accessing this content without parental knowledge or consent. I invite you to watch those board meetings from 6/22/2023, 7/27/2023, and 9/28/2023 recorded on the District’s YouTube channel.

As a person of faith, it is true that my beliefs inform my world view, how I approach problems, and how I make decisions. I also believe that my faith emphasizes compassion and empathy for others, respect for the unique experiences of each person that make us different, while appreciating and elevating the common threads of humanity that unite us all. An individual’s faith is personal. That journey is unique, cannot be forced, and certainly should not be pushed on anyone in an environment that, by its very nature, is meant to be an objective space, free from obligatory ideological adherence. I have and continue to support the freedom of all our students and staff to learn and teach, respectively, in environments that respect all religions, cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities and lifestyles, while maintaining a standard of educational suitability, appropriateness and relevance.

I hope we can move forward as a community, choosing thoughtful trust over skepticism and open dialogue over irrefutable assumptions. Thank you for allowing me to serve our students, staff, families, and community in this capacity. It has been an honor and a privilege. These opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Lee’s Summit School District or Board of Education.

Heather Eslick