by Diane Payne
The eight APPS members in attendance, along with our supporters, stood and read in unison our legal objection to the Board’s ongoing violations of the PA Sunshine Act–this month the secret vote on the Boys Latin Charter School renewal. This Board votes on all charter school issues (and only charter school issues) without providing the text of the Action Item or reading the text of the Item into the record. This is tantamount to voting in secret because the public has no information on the details on this item at the time of the vote. President Wilkerson attempted to gavel and talk over us, thus failing to acknowledge the Board’s obligation to listen to members of the public formally objecting under Section 710(c) of the PA Sunshine Act.
About a dozen school nurses showed up to protest the mismanagement of Health Services in the District. The eloquent and comprehensive testimonies of the nurses showed once again that Philadelphia school nurses are highly professional, credentialed, and competent.
Board members present: President Joyce Wilkerson, Vice-president Wayne Walker, Julia Danzy, Mallory Fix Lopez, Lee Huang, Maria McColgan, Chris McGinley, and Angela McIver. Student representatives Doha Ibrahim and Imere Williams were also present. Leticia Egea-Hinton was absent.
A choral group from Northeast High School performed two pieces and provided a delightful way to begin what turned out to be a long and contentious meeting.
Before the meeting, a rally organized by Our City Our Schools (OCOS) coalitions to demand action on toxic buildings and end the ten-year tax abatement took place on the steps of the District administration building These issues are linked because the property taxes abated for ten years is primarily benefiting wealthy developers and wealthy homeowners. The District loses millions of dollars in tax revenue to this program while our students and staff struggle to teach, learn, and stay healthy. Many of those at the rally came in to speak directly to the Board, along with many other students, teachers and community members seeking District accountability and support for ending the abatement. (President Wilkerson has stated in the past that it is not in the Board’s “purview” to take a position on city funding choices.)
Hite unveiled his amended environmental safety plan. Of course, any new plan is only as good as the honesty and integrity of those who implement it. Trust has been broken so many times that it may be hard to find any District stakeholder who can still muster a glimmer of hope from these new plans and promises. Many of those in the audience called out during Hite’s remarks. Some may find this inappropriate, but they are representative of many others who are frustrated by the ongoing mismanagement and deception.
More than one public speaker questioned the rationale of dividing the duties of the Facilities department. The current chief of this department, Danielle Floyd, will no longer be overseeing construction and capital projects. Those responsibilities now fall to Jim Creedon, already a District consultant, whose compensation will increase as of this meeting. Members of the public asked why a highly paid ($180, 250 annually) Director responsible for the biggest debacle to hit the District in years would be paid the same while having only half the workload–as an alternative to being asked for her resignation. Which takes us back to the question of honesty: what did Hite administration officials know and when did they know it? When dishonesty and cover-up are a part of the equation, shouldn’t some sort of public accountability be part of the solution–not a reduction in job duties with compensation remaining the same.
Information had been presented at the November 14th Finance and Facilities meeting on this new division of duties. No information was provided about Creedon’s background, qualifications, or expertise until APPS’ Diane Payne asked for it during her testimony. Creedon was then called to the front to introduce himself and give that information. What was never made quite clear at that time but became clear at the Action Meeting: Creedon will continue in his role as District consultant with an increase in compensation. Once more, important duties are fielded out to non-district staff. Why?
It is not surprising that new asbestos hot-spots arise weekly–what is shocking is how much the District ignores and covers up. Recent Inquirer articles on Ben Franklin/SLA and T.M. Pierce Elementary only scratch the surface.
Hite also reported on the location changes for the new schools flagged for asbestos. Pierce will move to the former Eastern University Charter School location on Henry Avenue; three classes of Pratt Headstart will move to Duckery Elementary and three classes will move to Gideon Elementary.
At the conclusion of Hite’s remarks, Fix Lopez read from a prepared statement regarding the ongoing emergencies with toxins in our schools. Although she expressed her support for Superintendent Hite’s plan, she told him that much of the erosion of trust was “self-inflicted”. Hite’s response to Fix Lopez’s statement included his defense that the problems of toxins in our schools preceded his arrival in 2012.
Three of the four Committee Co-chairs reported on meetings held on November 14, 2019: Policy, Finance and Facilities, and Student Achievement and Support. (Videos of all committee meetings can be viewed on the Board of Education page of the District website.) APPS members attend all committee meetings; our reports can be found at APPSPhilly.net.
McIver summoned Interim Head of the Charter Schools Office (CSO) Christina Grant to update the Board on the status of the Boys Latin Charter School renewal, postponed since 2017. Grant stated that the implementation of the Annual Charter Evaluation means that the CSO no longer needs to place “conditions” on charter operators. Her explanation did not make clear how an evaluation that did not include many of the categories in the Charter Evaluation Report could address any cited deficiencies. Thus conditions that had been placed on Boys Latin, like those of other recently renewed charters, simply disappeared. The Board accepted as gospel Grant’s assertion that Boys Latin had resolved the many issues cited in the 2017 report, including citations in admission criteria, financial interest statements, and transcripts tracking school governance. None of the Board members asked why the conditions were released to the charter school but not to the public. Actually, Boys Latin failed to meet standards in all three domains: academic, organizational, and financial. Growth was touted as a positive but when academic achievement remains in the single digits of performance year after year, relying on a growth factor seems counterintuitive. This school will next be up for renewal in 2022.
Questions were raised about Action Item 24–Contract with KIPP & Ratification of Letter of Agreement with The Neubauer Family Foundation to fund the KIPP college service. Hite responded that the Action Item was amended to cover only the one year paid for by Neubauer; at the conclusion of this year, it will be re-evaluated. Just before the vote on this Item was taken, several Board members offered their support for the program based on their belief that the program has no cost to the District. The attitude seems to be “if KIPP is offering something to our students and a foundation is paying for it–why not sign up for it”? This illustrates an ignorance of how outside vendors gain a toehold in public school systems. The reality is you get what you pay for and what you get for this particular brand of “free stuff” is a corporate influence spearheaded by the controversial and well-known “no excuses” charter chain. KIPP officials actually take pride in humbling and belittling students as a means of control; they bragged about expelling students who did not or could not go along with their abusive program. This is the kind of “free” we don’t need. Action Item 24 passed 7-1, with Fix Lopez dissenting.
The Community Engagement committee selects a member of the Parent and Community Advisory Council to speak each month on the schools they have visited and the issues communicated to them on these visits. The Board frequently fails to identify speakers in the written materials available to the public even though the speakers are a planned part of the agenda. This speaker was verbally introduced but the speaker’s name was NOT included on the agenda despite her being tasked with standing in front of the audience, at the podium, and addressing the public at large. Her remarks can be viewed in the online video.
Although the Community Engagement Committee is supposed to meet quarterly, last year it met only twice, once in North Philadelphia and once in West Philadelphia. APPS has asked when the next meeting will be, but none have been scheduled. Selecting a member of the Parent and Community Advisory Council to speak at an Action meeting should not take the place of holding actual meetings open to the public. The Board’s commitment to “community engagement” rings hollow when that Committee does not meet.
Student Representative Doha Ibrahim presented the student report.
Speakers on Action Items
Three students spoke about trying to learn in toxic buildings. It is heartening to see these young people taking their place in fighting for what is right and just but heartbreaking to know that their school experience represents the many failures of those in charge. A large portion of the audience stood in solidarity with the students, holding signs demanding an end to the 10-year tax abatement.
Councilwoman Helen Gym spoke on City Council’s efforts to put forth a bill on rolling back and eventually eliminating the tax abatement. Council President Darrell Clarke has introduced a bill just as Council is winding down for this year. There have been media reports about Clarke subverting the public process by holding small meetings that do not constitute a quorum. Thus, he may not be violating the letter of the Sunshine Act but does violate its spirit. The public should be included in all deliberations on this matter. We can see that the continued efforts of the Our Cities, Our Schools Coalition (OCOS) and other advocates have led to political movement on this issue. The election of progressive candidate Kendra Brooks to City Council certainly sent a clear message to those in power. These activists do not want a rushed version of a bill, with no public comment, that ends up being less than real reform.
Three APPS members testified against Action Item 7 amending a contract with Attune Education Partners to increase furnding by $76,000. Attune’s program is designed to refine the PK-3 literacy framework. The company, founded in 2016, has a team of ten people, all steeped in the same corporate reform world built and maintained by the Broad Academy, Relay Graduate School, Teach for American (TFA), Uncommon Schools, and KIPP. They have no classroom experience and little knowledge of pedagogy or child development. Again, the corporate influence is further embedding itself into our public school policy.
Voting and Objecting
The Board voted in a block on Action Items 1-3, 7-23, & 25-31. All passed unanimously except for Item 2; Huang abstained; Action Item 7; Fix Lopez voted No.
Items 4-5: Passed unanimously.
Item24: Passed 7 to 1, Fix Lopez dissenting.
Item 32: In recent Board meetings, APPS co-founder Lisa Haver has stood and objected to the Board’s violations of the Sunshine Act when voting on charter issues. Although the law provides for legal objections from attendees, Wilkerson bangs the gavel and fails to respond. On every charter school Item, the Board publishes a title only with no text explaining the Action Item. This amounts to a secret vote because the public has no access to the full information on which the Board is voting. If the Board fails to publish the full text at the time of the vote, it must be read in full into the record prior to votes being cast. Since there were many voices this time, they could not take the vote until we finished. Unfortunately, no Board member felt the need to question the Board’s non-democratic actions.
APPS objects to the Board of Education negotiating in secret on charter school matters, failing to provide any text except the name of the Action Item at the time of the vote, and failing to read the full text of the Action Item into the record at the time of the vote. The Board, as a governing body, has no right to vote in secret.
Incredibly, the full text of the Item appeared in the Board’s online Meeting Materials the day after the meeting. This is a falsification of the public record.
District Counsel Lynn Rauch noted APPS’ objection for the record prior to the vote.
Action Item 33, Settlement with Franklin Towne Charter School: Passed 5 to 3 with Danzy, Fix Lopez, and McGinley dissenting.
Action Item 34: passed unanimously.
Public Speakers on General Topics
How impressive to see the number of truthsayers who come forth to expose what is happening every day in our schools. There is a direct link between the issues raised by speakers from the front lines of Philadelphia education and the issues APPS raises. But too frequently, the Board does not seem to make the connection. (For example, community disengagement = ignore APPS lawful objections to Sunshine Act violations.) Speakers included: parents from Ben Franklin and Pierce on toxic schools and District mishandling of environmental issues; Occupational Therapists on workload conditions; other District staff on untenable building conditions; Board partnering on closed Germantown HS transition; plight of Paraprofessionals; and District disinformation protested by School Nurses.
And then came the nurses! Five School Nurses described the chaos and confusion that has resulted from the interference by non-medical staff at the Office of Student Services, under the direction of Karen Lynch and apparently with the blessing of Dr. Hite, into health practices and procedures. The nurses sounded the first alarm on this last Spring, telling the Board that Lynch, as Director of Student Support Services, was violating the District’s longstanding policy on exclusion of students who failed to get required vaccinations. There were promises then that the issue would be resolved before the beginning of the next school year. McGinley, at that time, expressed his anger about the disinformation from Lynch. But instead of fixing the issue, the misinformation and deception from Lynch’s department actually increased.
As Nurses Eileen Duffey, Peg Devine, Michele Perloff, Colleen Quinn, and Anne Smith testified, Lynch has directed personnel from the Family and Community Engagement Office (FACE) to enter student medical information in the computer system, thereby circumventing nurses and causing unnecessary confusion and errors. Lynch’s office also sent out postcards containing students’ names, addresses, and a statement about non-compliance with immunization, thus violating HIPAA privacy requirements. Lynch organized immunization field trips for students 14-years and older to City Health Centers to get vaccinated without parental accompaniment and without following all of the District guidelines on trips. In addition, the medical doctor on staff at 440 and overseeing the school nurse department resigned on October 4th of this year, but that information has yet to be publicly released. Not even the nurses were told by Lynch’s office. Nurses cannot provide even OTC medicine to students without a doctor on District staff who provides the standing orders for such dispensing. The nurses continued administering pain meds to children without the knowledge that they were doing so illegally and placing their credentials in jeopardy.
A number of Board members expressed their displeasure and asked Hite to explain his role in the ongoing snafu. Board Member McColgan, a pediatrician, informed Hite that it is not an option but a state mandate that non-immunized children be excluded from school. She stated further that she has searched extensively to find research that supports Hite’s assertion that too many students lose many instructional days due to immunization exclusion but could find none. McColgan said that it seems nurses are asked to do a job, then have their hands tied behind their backs.
As he was last Spring, McGinley was visibly upset, and he instructed Hite to immediately find a replacement for the resigned doctor. He reminded Hite that credentials matter, that too often it seems that the belief of this administration is that smart people can do any job without the proper certification. This raises a question about the Hite administration–what would a credential audit turn up?
Teacher Brian Gallagher told the Board that he could no longer teach in the District and maintain his health. It is heartbreaking to see dedicated and experienced teachers left with no choice but to resign. His testimony has been published as a commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In it he chides the District for spending money on “ridiculous” programs like Jounce, which was imposed on his school, McDaniel Elementary, as part of the Priority Schools Program. APPS continues to write and testify about the harm these corporate programs cause while dipping into scare District funds.