Ears on the Board of Education: March 25, 2021

by Diane Payne

“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” James Baldwin

For the second month in a row, the Board of Education denied some members the opportunity to speak on official items and matters of concern. Due to the Board’s arbitrary changes in public speaking policy, an unknown number of people have been silenced.  Without public announcement, debate, discussion, or vote, the Board instituted a speaker policy change that caps the number of student speakers at ten and adult speakers at thirty, and reduces speaking time from three minutes to two.  Even the School Reform Commission did not resort to outright silencing of the public. The PA Sunshine Act protects citizens’ right to meaningfully participate in their governments and to be heard on all official business.  Shocked reaction to this speaker suppression  has come from staff, Parents, students, community members, local politicians, the Education Law Center, and the ACLU. Those objections have fallen on the deaf ears of a Board that touts public engagement while silencing the public. APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU, have filed suit to reverse the speaker policy changes in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Sign our petition here to tell the Board: Stop the Suppression of Public Speakers!

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Ears on the Board of Education : February 25, 2021

By Diane Payne

The remote February  Board of Education Action Meeting again enforced the silencing of students, parents, educators and community members through its regressive speaker policy. The Board’s sign-up process has no transparency, so we cannot know how many were barred from speaking before or after the window closed. How many students and adults were denied their right to be heard? How many ways did the Board violate the state’s Sunshine Act?  Both Speaker Lists reflected the Board’s new 10-student and 30-adult speaker limits. This Board, as the governing body of the public school system, has no right to violate the law or its own by-laws by secretly amending official District policies. The Board has an obligation to provide a venue in which Philadelphians can participate freely and openly in governmental business.  Other efforts to engage the public should not be conflated with public meetings where the Board votes on official items.  The speaker changes first implemented in December include capping speakers and reducing speaking time, as well as moving up the deadline for sending in written testimony. These changes were implemented in secret with no public notification or Board deliberation. They reversed decades of precedent that even the SRC adhered to.  APPS members call on the Board to reverse these changes.

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Ears on the Board of Education: January 28, 2021

by Diane Payne

The Board set the tone for this remote Action Meeting by imposing more undemocratic, punitive measures on the defenders of public education. Disenfranchisement was carried out in a number of ways, all decided in secret. The Board, for the first time in District history,  cut every speaker’s time from three minutes to two, and they limited the total number of speakers. In addition, the deadline for submitting written testimony went from 24 to 48 hours before the meeting. Violating not only the trust of the public but its own by-laws and the PA Sunshine Act, the Board amended an official policy without a public vote. Thus, when Dr. Hite called a press conference on Wednesday to announce his latest reopening plan, parents, teachers, students and principals had no chance to voice their opposition. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had been warning against the still unsafe conditions of school buildings, but the Board made sure that neither they nor the public would hear about them. The Board is taking advantage of a public health crisis to shut the public out even more. 

The Board continued its punishment by subjecting the public to hours of verbosity camouflaged as action, topped off with another round of self-congratulation.  It is disheartening to witness the hustle the Board perpetuates in addressing student achievement.  With the passage of Item One, the Board implemented its alliterative Goals and Guardrails (G&G)  campaign.  How can Board members be so deaf to the actual needs of students and educators, expressed month after month in public testimony?  G&G’s color-coded boxes bury issues in charts, graphs,  education jargon, and  interventions.  Their own education experts–the teachers and staff of the District–entreat the Board month after month to be heard.  Our city’s children have had countless “plans” imposed on them, year after year, in this administration alone.

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Ears on the Board of Education: December 10, 2020

By Diane Payne

The Board of Education held its final Action Meeting at the end of a year that upended the lives of every person in the world, including Philadelphia students and their families.  The suffering, isolation, and  fear felt by our most vulnerable citizens has been staggering–especially because so much of it was avoidable.  One thing that stood out in this last public meeting was the apparent absence of District administrations’ awareness of this fact. At the November Action Meeting, Superintendent Hite, in answer to concerns raised about students’  mental health,  promised to present this month the supports implemented by his administration.  Students heading into the holiday season with prolonged time off from school,  families whose breadwinners lost jobs and may not be able to afford to celebrate the holidays, some facing eviction–this would have been a perfect time to assure Board Members that our students have a safety net. But there was no presentation nor any question about it from any Board members.  

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