Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ag teacher: FFA students cheated out of fair entry

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 10/11/2013

Still shocked and confused, Angelle Higbie said she’s still trying to make sense of a recent Franklin County Fair Board decision.

Higbie, Pomona, West Franklin High School agriculture teacher, said she indirectly learned about the fair board’s decision to bar FFA members from showing and exhibiting projects at the 2014 Franklin County Fair from a fellow FFA adviser.

Still shocked and confused, Angelle Higbie said she’s still trying to make sense of a recent Franklin County Fair Board decision.

Higbie, Pomona, West Franklin High School agriculture teacher, said she indirectly learned about the fair board’s decision to bar FFA members from showing and exhibiting projects at the 2014 Franklin County Fair from a fellow FFA adviser.

“I got a phone call to let me know that this had happened, supposedly at their August meeting,” she said. “I never got told, never got contacted or told by the fair board that this happened.”

Without any rhyme or reason behind the decision, Higbie said, she called the fair board’s president, Justin Webb, for an explanation.

“From what I understood through the conversation, there were some concerns with kids selling in two counties,” Higbie said.

Students attending West Franklin High School may live in Osage County since West Franklin is a floating district, she said, meaning students may simultaneously be members of Osage County 4-H and West Franklin FFA, and essentially could show and sell livestock in both Franklin and Osage county fairs.

“That’s fine, I understand that and I don’t argue that,” Higbie said. “Then why didn’t we just vote to have the kids that could only sell in one county still be able to show, and I never got a good answer.”

Fair board member Ron Valdiviez was unaware of the board’s decision, he said, since he hasn’t been attending meetings because he disagrees with some of the board’s other recent decisions.

“To me, that board is turning into a dictatorship,” Valdiviez said Friday. “There’s people that are FFA members and 4-H members. I don’t think it’s a good idea [to bar FFA members from showing]. Who cares? It keeps the kids involved and gives them something to do. I don’t understand it.”

Webb and other fair board members either couldn’t be reached or refused to comment on the FFA issue, but said a statement would be issued after the board’s Oct. 21 meeting. Because board members would not discuss the new policy, it was not immediately clear if the rule applied only to West Franklin FFA members or to students across Franklin County.

Having not received a call informing her of the change or that the option to bar FFA members even was being discussed, Higbie said she feels she and her FFA members have been cheated.

“This group of people made a decision about my program and my kids and I never had an opportunity to speak for [the students] or say something on their behalf,” she said. “I’ve not received a letter or a formal ‘Here’s the new ruling.’”

Barring all FFA members eliminates those students who are only FFA members, and not members of any 4-H club, Higbie said.

“I’m concerned that if I have a kid that is not a 4-H member, but is an FFA member, you’ve just eliminated them from showing at their county fair, and at the end of it, the fair is really about the kids,” Higbie said.

Another concern is that not all FFA members show and sell animals, she said.

“Not all my kids show livestock,” Higbie said. “I have kids that show in horticulture and one in fine arts. Some aren’t involved in the sale. They exhibit in other things that have nothing to do with the fair sale.”

Like Higbie, Idonna Corwine has been seeking answers or an explanation behind the decision.

“My most pressing question is: Why would they do this?” Corwine, Quenemo, said in a Herald Reader Forum letter. “Agriculture has always faced a tough future and now is no exception. Instead of discouraging young people who are interested in the vital industry we should be doing everything we can to encourage this activity.”

Corwine has been working to spread awareness about the fair board’s decision, she said. Since her requests for a copy of the minutes of the meeting have gone unanswered, she said, she’s taken to contacting the surrounding schools to bring to their attention the fair board’s decision.

“I sent a letter to the school boards of West Franklin, Central Heights and Ottawa,” Corwine said. “Just to ask them to ask the board to reconsider its decision.”

Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin school superintendent, said Friday Corwine’s letter was the first he had heard about the fair board’s decision. Rick Smith, West Franklin High School principal, said Friday he was unaware of the change to FFA members’ eligibility at the Franklin County Fair.

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