‘This behavior is unacceptable’: Missouri school board member Whitney Lanning charged with harassment of fellow board member, called on to resign from nonprofit 

A Missouri school board member is facing a harassment charge, as well as calls to resign from her nonprofit day job where she’s been accused of creating a toxic environment. 

St. Joseph…

A Missouri school board member is facing a harassment charge, as well as calls to resign from her nonprofit day job where she’s been accused of creating a toxic environment. 

St. Joseph School Board member Whitney Lanning screamed profanities at and threatened to assault fellow board member Isaura Garcia, even as Lanning chased her around “multiple rooms,” according to a police report filed March 5. 

The altercation occurred after a meeting on Feb. 26, when the board voted 4-3 against a four-day school week proposal that Lanning favored. Garcia voted against it.

“This behavior is unacceptable,” Garcia later said about Lanning’s outburst. “As a public servant, I can no longer sit idly by while a member of the board of education attacks, verbally abuses and bullies other board members, district employees and members of the public.”

However, Lanning expressed no remorse, claiming her response was in defense of her child. 

“My child was attacked in an effort to discredit district staff,” she said. “As a mother I’ll always defend my child, and all children for that matter.” 

In a Probable Cause Statement, Detective Kylee Van Meter disagreed, writing that what transpired appeared to be “harassment” and “without good cause.”

“Whitney R. Lanning approached the victim in the doorway as she was leaving and began screaming profanities in her face,” the statement reads. “Whitney R. Lanning then followed the victim through multiple rooms of the building while screaming that she was going to assault her. 

“Witness 1 had to intervene between Whitney R. Lanning and the victim due to his belief that Whitney R. Lanning was going to physically assault the victim. Whitney R. Lanning threw her property against a wall while screaming threats and profanities at the victim.  

“Whitney R. Lanning told the victim multiple times that she was going to assault her, as well as Witness 2. This put the victim in fear and has caused and continues to cause emotional distress from this incident and several priors the victim reported.” 

This isn’t the first time Lanning has been accused of creating a toxic work environment. 

Two years ago, while running for mayor of St. Joseph, several former Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph (CAPSTJOE) employees accused Lanning of discrimination and creating a hostile work environment. 

Lanning serves as the executive director of CAPSTJOE and as president of the Missouri Community Action Network, CAPSTJOE’s parent group. 

Another allegation came from a former officer of Continuum of Care, a group combatting homelessness that works with CAPSTJOE.

He said CAPSTJOE’s understaffing was “self-imposed by Ms. Lanning.” 

“I feel the desire to help the homeless is not of importance to Ms. Lanning, and any efforts false [sic] and are politically motivated,” he said in a letter. “I want no part of anything Ms. Lanning is associated with and [withdraw] from the Continuum.” 

Friday, Kyle White, an associate commissioner of DeKalb County, which partners with CAPSTJOE, even called for Lanning’s resignation after the harassment charge became public last week. 

“I understand innocent until proven guilty, but multiple concerns regarding Lanning from various situations is more than troubling,” White wrote of Lanning’s track record.

“Federal, state and county officials that are involved with CAPSTJOE need to be aware of the character of leadership at the organization and request the immediate resignation of Ms. Lanning from the organization,” he concluded.

Some St. Joseph community members have been seeking Lanning’s removal from the school board. 

An online petition to recall Lanning began late last year and gathered over 500 signatures. It described her behavior as “unprofessional and unsuitable for such an important position in our education system.”  

Another concern is whether Lanning’s nonprofit roles create a conflict of interest with serving on the school board.

Lanning makes six figures as the executive director of CAPSTJOE, whose budget exceeds $10 million

Most of its money (97%) comes from taxpayers in the form of federal grants. More than half of the budget goes to salary and benefits, while just 15% goes to “direct client services,” according to its 2022 annual report. 

Several of the group’s services include education assistance, including in St. Joseph School District. 

Furthermore, CAPSTJOE Board Treasurer LaTonya Williams is also president of the St. Joseph School Board.  

Williams had little to say about Lanning’s recent criminal charges, according to local KQ2, calling it an “incident.” 

“The Board is aware of an incident arising from a disagreement among two board members occurring at the board meeting held on February 26, 2024,” Williams said in a statement. “It is our understanding that this incident has been referred to outside agencies for appropriate action as warranted. The Board emphasizes that individual board members are responsible for their own actions and do not speak or act on the board’s behalf unless they are designated by the board to do so.” 

Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Davidson described the charge as a Class A misdemeanor, according to News-Press Now, which also reports Lanning’s first court appearance is set for 1 p.m. on April 3.