Secret Deals and Speaker Suppression

Ears on the Board of Education: November 18, 2021

by Diane Payne

The Board practices speaker suppression in many ways. They abolished the committees that offered the school community a way to engage in real dialogue and deliberation. They gutted the official speaker policy, changing the rules from month to month and meeting to meeting. Those are obvious methods. But there are other ways to silence people. One is to add official items to the agenda after the sign-up window has closed, such as the charter renewals, so that only charter company representatives have a chance to be heard. Another is to add staff presentations to the agenda the day of the meeting, making it impossible for people to have a chance to comment or question. The Board does not post staff presentations before or even during the meeting, with the same results. And with only two minutes to speak, it is difficult if not impossible for people to address their issue and also ask a question about information presented during the meeting.  Of the thirty speakers allowed to sign up, eleven did not show up. That meant the Board only had to listen to nineteen adult speakers, silencing an unknown number of speakers (including three APPS members who were barred this month), disenfranchising the public, undermining democracy, and shielding themselves from accountability.  

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Pandemic Push-Out Stifles Public Engagement

Eyes on the Board of Education: November 18, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes

The District’s Pandemic Push-out affects everyone in the District: parents, students, educators, community members. When we had no choice but to stay home, meetings were virtual and human contact was minimized. The Board took advantage of our isolation by continual minimizing of  public participation. Instead of becoming more inclusive and more committed to listening to the District’s stakeholders, the Board and the Hite Administration have used the quarantine as a means of putting more distance between their directives, procedures, and policies.and those affected by them. When we won the battle in 2018 to abolish the School Reform Commission, we had great hopes for a School Board, albeit an appointed one. The Board increased community engagement with the establishment of four committees: Finance and Facilities; Student Achievement and Support; Policy; Family and Community Engagement. After two meetings, the Board disbanded the Community Engagement Committee. Last year, they disbanded two more, leaving only the Policy Committee, which met only four times a year (APPS found out last month that Policy will now only meet twice a year). In an December 2020 article Board members told Chalkbeat last year that Board meetings will look different, with more public engagement and discussion of data. In truth, there has been much less public engagement and much more data analysis–up to two hours at every action meeting. Only when APPS members complained did the Board allow public speakers to be placed ahead of the Goals and Guardrails session.  In January, the Board implemented Speaker Suppression procedures capping the number of speakers and cutting speakers’ time.

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Board Proposes Another Way to Silence District Educators

Policy Committee Report:  November 4, 2021

by Lisa Haver

About 4 hours before the Policy Committee  convened, APPS sounded the alarm on twitter: “New @PHLschoolboard Policy 911: “Staff members shall not give school information or interviews requested by news media representatives without prior approval of the Office of Communications.” We will ask whether that applies to all #PhlEd staff as that is clearly unconstitutional.  

District employees and union members responded, tagging members of the Board. Only one Board Member, Mallory Fix Lopez, echoed that alarm at the meeting, rightly calling the policy a “gag order”. 

Lisa Haver, the only public speaker who addressed Policy 911, told the Board that teachers and staff “do not surrender their Constitutional rights when they become employees of the School District of Philadelphia.” 

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APPS Testimony to SDP Board of Education, October 28, 2021

Click on the title to read a transcript of the individual speaker’s testimony.

Students Want School Libraries by Deborah Grill

School Staffing Issues by Kristen Luebbert

Genuine Engagement is Missing by Diane Payne

Omissions by Barbara McDowell Dowdall

A word from your certified school nurses by Eileen Duffey