The Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education voted to remove Paul Kolin’s title of president over alleged policy and procedure violations.

The Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education voted to remove Paul Kolin’s title of president over alleged policy and procedure violations.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

BHS board strips president of position over response to mask controversy

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 5, 2021


BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — After a quick and fiery discussion at the start of a Sept. 23 Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education meeting, President Paul Kolin was ousted from his seat as president for the next calendar year.

In a 6-1 vote, with Kolin himself as the dissenter, the board voted first to add a discussion about Kolin’s future on the board to the agenda, and then later voted to remove Kolin as president. As an elected official, however, he will remain on the board as a trustee.

The list
The move was a result of a controversy that began back in mid-September, when a district parent reached out to Kolin to report what they said they believed to be a potential threat to their safety.

That perceived threat was the inclusion of their name on a list that had been making the rounds of social media. The list contained names of supposed opponents to the district’s mask policy, supposedly created by a pro-masking parent. Some on the list took their inclusion to mean they were being targeted or discriminated against, and called it a “burn list” or “hit list.”

“I was asked to send this list to our police liaison. Since this is viewed as a hate crime by the 97 families listed, I (contacted) Superintendent Patrick Watson and asked him to send the list to the police liaison,” said Kolin during a statement he had prepared, as the board took up the topic of his actions.

He said police followed up on the report, contacting potential authors of the list. Kolin said he was asked to provide screenshots from text messages and social media posts that would lead to anyone of interest.

The backlash
Though Kolin insisted he violated no documented rules, the rest of the board disagreed and said that when he initiated a possible police criminal investigation involving district parents, he did so of his own accord and should’ve consulted with the board first. By leaving them out of the loop, they say he violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act and multiple board procedures.

“Unbeknownst to this board, President Kolin made a unilateral decision to file a police report about a parent. To be clear, we’re not talking about the list of community members, we’re discussing our president’s actions,” said Board Trustee Siva Kumar. “The board was neither informed nor consulted before going to law enforcement. The president has yet to share details of communications despite repeated requests. The first thing we learn joining a board of seven is that none of us has the ability to act alone. Before taking any action, the board must be presented with all relevant information.”

During the course of the discussion, Kolin said he was within his rights to confer with the superintendent before the rest of the board, but his fellow trustees disagreed and said such a threat should’ve been reported to police immediately by the concerned parent.

The motive
Moreover, some board members suggested that safety wasn’t Kolin’s first priority in prompting the investigation. According to a report from Bloomfield Township Police, Kolin provided the names of five people who he believed could’ve authored the list, based on their public criticism of his leadership.

“All are ‘pro-mask’ stance,” and moderate social media pages centered around the district. “Mr. Kolin states these people have been very vocal for masking and have denounced his actions and have been critical of him as the school board president in general,” wrote BTPD Officer Marisa Miller.

“You did your own profiling to figure out who might be responsible for this list,” said Board Secretary John VanGemert.

It wasn’t long before police were able to track down the BHS parent who generated the list, and she said the information was “for her personal knowledge and had no malicious intent, and never intended to target families,” according to police.

The names on the list were pulled from a petition sent to BHS Superintendent Patrick Watson during the summer, requesting that students be able to return to school without masks. In a chat group, she told others about the list and, upon request, sent a copy to those interested.

“OK, but please don’t share this or say that I am the one that wrote it up because I’m not trying to target these people. I literally just want to know for my own records,” the author wrote in a chat obtained by police.

“Yes I don’t think any of us are interested in retribution or singling anyone’s kids out. I’ve been making mental notes for my own awareness, but your actual notes would be much better,” another parent responded in the chat.

The investigation
Lt. Paul Schwab of the BTPD said it didn’t take long for investigators to determine that no threats were made to coincide with the list. He said much of the list wasn’t even accurate, with some being maiden names and not current legal names, and a few listed are actually pro-mask.

“The investigation was closed last week and the end result was that this was information. It never rose to the point of criminality,” said Schwab in an interview Sept. 27. “It was not intended to cause any disruption in the district, and it’s not politically motivated. This individual made the list because she didn’t want her kid hanging out with (unmasked students) after school, that’s all. We found out what was going on in a very short time, and when we found out who it was they were very cooperative. We didn’t have to do a lot of digging or get search warrants.”

As for whether Kolin should’ve made the list a police matter, Schwab said that’s not really for him to say.

“If he truly thought there was an imminent threat to the community, he should’ve called the Police Department first,” Schwab said. “I’m not minimizing what people are feeling — I don’t know what it would be like to have my name on a list someone made — but in this case, there were no threats. We tried to tell everyone this was not designed to cause chaos or to try to promote a hidden agenda. It wasn’t any of that. It actually said on it ‘for your eyes only.’”

The damage control
Bloomfield Hills Schools district officials said no administrators were available for an interview, but provided a statement on their behalf.

“The Board of Education, with a majority vote, voted to remove Paul Kolin from the position of president. The Board of Education is independently elected by the community, and has a set of operating procedures that they follow, which includes Bylaw 1001 Organization and Functioning of the Board,” the statement reads.

“As the administration of the district, it is our responsibility to serve our students and families and focus our attention on student learning. We remain fully committed to our incredible students and to our responsibility of providing high quality education for all students.”

Kolin’s term expires in 2022. On the BHS board website, Kolin is currently listed as a trustee and Trustee Jennifer Matlow is listed as acting president.