Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board,
At every remote meeting held by the Board, a significant portion of the meeting displays only a full-screen digital clock. Public viewers are not able to see any member of the Board or the administration. The public did not see the Board for over seven hours at the first session of the July Action Meeting.
A meeting at which the public is not able to see the Board, especially for hours at a time, cannot be considered a true public meeting.
We request that you make the screen include all members of the Board and Dr. Hite, along with any administrator speaking, for the entirety of the meeting. The digital clock, during public speaking, can take up one square on the screen.
If you convene the second session of the Action Meeting with the same format, we request that you explain at the outset of the session why the present technology prevents you from being seen.
In a major victory for students, teachers, support staff, and principals, the Hite administration will present a reopening plan featuring a full virtual program for at least the first two months of school.
“The health and safety of the children and adults must be the first consideration in any reopening plan,” said APPS co-founder Lisa Haver. “For now, those who feared returning to buildings without proper ventilation and adequate custodial services can focus on making sure children have the tools they need to learn, in particular reliable internet service.” Haver added that any hybrid plan considered for future months must fully involve District stakeholders.
Superintendent Hite had submitted a hybrid plan at last week’s remote Board of Education meeting. That plan was met by almost unanimous opposition by more than 100 people who testified over the 8-hour meeting. Rather than vote to reject Hite’s plan, the Board took an unexpected vote to recess the meeting, taking no action on any of the Agenda Items. The Items totaled over $190 million in spending, including the estimated cost of the hybrid plan.
“The Board recessed the meeting just after the speakers portion of the agenda. But they must allow speakers to weigh in on the new plan before taking a vote,” said Haver. “The public had months to be heard via surveys and online meetings. We now have just a couple of days to review an entirely new plan. That is not true public engagement. In addition, the public deserves a full explanation of what business may have transpired behind the scenes during the meeting.”
The Board came under criticism from APPS members and others for apparent violations of the PA Sunshine Act. Board President Joyce Wilkerson could be heard on an open mic asking someone whether the Board should recess before voting on anything. Also, the Board also failed to take public comments when a motion was introduced during the meeting.
By Diane Payne
In the first week of July, the Board placed a notice of an Action Meeting in its online calendar. The Board placed no banner on the District homepage, and the agenda was not posted until 72 hours before the meeting. The obvious reason to add a special meeting was to discuss the District’s fall reopening plan, but the Agenda contained twenty-six Items. All eight Board members were present. Mayor Kenney has taken no steps to fill the ninth seat, vacant since Chris McGinley resigned in April. The Mayor’s Nominating Panel, which met earlier this year to fill Wayne Walker’s seat, could easily be reconvened to fill this one, and the Mayor could choose from the list of candidates already compiled. In both 2018 and 2020, the Mayor ordered the Panel to meet only in Executive Session, thus violating the state’s Sunshine Act and shutting out the public from the entire process. The abolition of the state-controlled SRC did not result in true local control but in mayoral control.
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by Lynda Rubin and Karel Kilimnik
At a remote press conference Wednesday, Superintendent Hite and District and City officials presented the District’s official school reopening plan. Mayor Kenney, Board President Joyce Wilkerson, senior District staff and City officials appeared, making statements and answering questions from reporters. This stood in stark contrast to the virtual “Town Hall” meetings held by the District last week, which no Board member attended and at which no questions asked by parents, community members and educators were answered.
The 28-page “Advancing Education Safely” (AES) lays out a hybrid plan that has most students in school for two days and working remotely for three. The document acknowledges two contributing organizations, the City of Philadelphia and Accenture, a multi-national business and technology consulting firm based in Ireland. Attempts to find a contract with Accenture on the Board’s website were not fruitful. The Board has not released its agenda for the July 23 Action Meeting; it may appear there.
Having attended all of the virtual town hall meetings and recent Board meetings, and having heard from parents and community members over the past four months, APPS has concluded that the Hite administration’s reopening plan fails in large part to address public concerns.
APPS member, teacher and parent Zoe Rooney and teacher Emily Simpson have compiled an extensive list of questions from District parents, educators and community members.
Dr. Hite, in response to a reporter’s question, stated that this reopening will come at a cost of $60 to $80 million. But that does not include the financial and emotional cost to the students, parents and educators who will be on the front lines in this battle. Parents, notably those who are also teachers, must also figure out how to make this complicated schedule work and still stay employed. Will their employers allow them to bring their children to work three days a week? Will the District provide flex time for teachers with school-aged children?
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