Board Holds Special Meeting, Leaves Too Many Questions Unanswered

by Diane Payne

On August 24,2021, the Board called a special session to vote on one item: a resolution requiring vaccination mandates for all District staff. President Joyce Wilkerson announced this meeting at last week’s August Acion Meeting; she did not explain why this one item was not on that agenda.  This meeting was held one day after staff returned to school buildings and just one week before children return.  The Delta variant was first reported in the U.S. back in March of this year–5 months ago.  Why does the District again seem to be a day late and a dollar short?  Vaccines and other mandates are standard in school communities to protect children and the population at large from harm, yet the District plays brinkmanship with children and staff during a pandemic.  

The Board spun its speaker wheel and came up with 50 adults and 20 students permitted to testify–on one Action Item.  

Seven of the eight Board members attended, along with both student representatives and Dr. Hite.  Board member (and pediatrician) Maria McColgan was absent.  (No word on when Mayor Kenny will begin the replacement process for resigned Board Member Angela McIver.)  Added to the agenda just before the meeting was a presentation from Acting City Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole. District Medical Officer Barbara Klock attended but did not speak. 

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Board of Education Hears Demands from Educators and Community: March 18, 2021

by Lynda Rubin

The fact that one hundred thirty-three speakers signed up to speak at this special meeting shows the need for parents, teachers, principals, parents, and community members to be heard by the Board every month. The Board has arbitrarily, without public vote or notice, decided to cap the speaker list at all action meetings to ten students and thirty adults–whether there are thirty action items or sixty. The Board will choose who makes the cut and who is barred,  and President Wilkerson has actually threatened to cut off the mic of anyone whose testimony she deems “irrelevant”. With only two minutes to testify, most speakers have been cut off mid-sentence. 

All Board members and Dr. Hite were present for this remote meeting. Because the Board gutted its official speaker policy, deciding before each meeting who they wish to hear from, they imposed no cap at this special hearing and all speakers were allotted three minutes. Many of those testifying demanded that the Board restore the previous speaker policy. Last week, APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU,  filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas, asking that the Board’s violations of the PA Sunshine Act be reversed before the March 25 action meeting.

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Mayor’s Nominating Panel Turns Its Back on the Public

by Ilene Poses

On November 17, Mayor Kenney’s 13-member Nominating Panel convened to open proceedings on filling  three vacancies on the Philadelphia School Board. They billed the event as a “public hearing”,  but it was actually a live television show. No public testimony or interaction of any kind was permitted.  The Panel, reading quickly from their scripts, wrapped up the TV show  in just over 30 minutes. Chair Wendell Pritichett, former School Reform Commissioner, gave little information on the selection process and did not give the date of the next Panel meeting.  He and the Panelists did take time to congratulate each other for their service.  

Pritchett mentioned in passing that the Nominating Panel would again be conducting all deliberations in executive session. Pritchett, a Penn law professor, failed to cite the specific reason for moving the Panel out of the public eye–probably because there is none. APPS members protested this same violation of the PA Sunshine Act when the Panel convened in 2018. Did the people of Philadelphia fight so hard for local control just to be shut out of all discussions about our representatives on the School Board?  The Panel — itself chosen without any public input — has sent nine semi-finalists, from whom the Mayor will choose his three nominees. The Mayor can ask for more candidates if he is not satisfied with the Panel’s choices; he has until December 26 to ask for more names.  City Council must confirm those nominees. In the past, however, Council has done little more than rubber-stamp the Mayor’s choices.

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Board Must Be Fully Present at Meetings

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. 

Sincerely, 

Lisa Haver

Karel Kilimnik