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Mystery over why Hillsboro school board members resigned

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, MO (KPLR) – About half of the Hillsboro School Board resigned Thursday morning without giving much of an explanation. Departing member Dan McCarthy’s letter pointed to “strained philosophical differences.” Charles “Bo” Harrison and John C. Stewart, who was president, also left the board.

Hillsboro School Superintendent Aaron Cornman said he spoke to each of the three, asking them to remain on the board, but they declined.

The district and the board have been under pressure this fall after a high school student who grew up as a boy began dressing and identifying as a girl. Lila Perry told administrators she is transgender and wanted to use the girls’ locker room for gym and the girls’ restroom. Eventually Perry dropped out of gym class after parents voiced concerns for their daughters.

The high school now has four restrooms labeled “inclusive” and designated for transgender students and those of the sex they identify with. The new labels went up over Labor Day.

Parent Danielle Bentley welcomed the departure of the three board members.

“They wanted transparency; they wanted to see things change. Some of them were silenced quite frequently,” she said.

Parent and Hillsboro lawyer Derrick Good said he saw a “unique” opportunity in the resignations.

“It gives us an opportunity to find three good folks from the district to sit on the board and help reshape the policy,” he said.

Cornman said Thursday he did not believe the controversy led to the resignations.

“I was told by one member they had been thinking about this for the past several months so that’s why I believe it is not one student related issue that’s pushed the board or members to seek to leave , resign their membership as a board member,” Cornman said.

There are some legal questions about how to appoint interim board members now that Jefferson County ranks as a first class county under Missouri law. Lawyers are looking into the appropriate procedure to fill the three empty seats until the members’ terms are complete. In the meantime, Cornman said the remaining four members will be able to conduct the district’s business.

Education Plus, a consortium of school districts, is working on a model policy for student rights in cases where transgender students are in attendance. Hillsboro is a part of that and is also working with the Missouri School Board Association in Jefferson City to draft such a policy.