February 1, 2021
Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board,
On behalf of the members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, we call on you reverse the changes to the Board’s official speaker policy imposed at the January 28 Action Meeting.
For decades, from previous Boards through the School Reform Commission, members of the public have had three minutes in which to be heard on an issue—or issues. The Board, without warning or explanation, cut speakers’ time to two minutes and limited the number of speakers at every meeting. The Board did this without any public vote, violating not only the public trust but the PA Sunshine Act, by voting in secret and preventing any public comment.
Earlier this year, President Wilkerson warned speakers that if they attempted to speak on any topic other than the one designated on their sign-up form, she would have their mics cut off.
In contrast, charter operators were given hours-long hearings last week in which to sell their new charter applications, including a 15-minute period at the end of each hearing for closing remarks. When the Board votes on these applications, members of any affected communities will have only two minutes to argue for their denial.
The reasons for this silencing became clear with Dr. Hite’s announcement, the day before the meeting, of his plan to send students and staff back into school buildings. In July 2020, parents, teachers, principals and students spoke for hours in opposition to Dr. Hite’s plan. The Board clearly did not want a repeat. Anyone who tried to sign up Wednesday to speak on the plan found themselves blocked.
Another reason emerged as we witnessed the Board’s 2 ½ hour discussion about the details of its new Goals and Guardrails. The Board replaced public voices with their own. The first public speaker was not heard until almost three hours into the meeting. There was no consideration for parents who must feed children and help them with homework or for teachers trying to prepare lessons for the next day.
The Board should not be using this time of public isolation to shut the public out even more.
We demand that the Board reverse the changes in the Speakers Policy before the February 25 Action Meeting. Restore speaker time to three minutes. Remove the cap on the number of speakers. Conduct all official business and hear from all public speakers before you embark on the next marathon Goals and Guardrails session.
Parents, educators, students and members of the community should be seen by the Board as partners in advancing and improving public education, not obstacles.