One Year Anniversary–Silence the Public, Shield the Board

Board of Education Remarks, January 27, 2022

by Diane Payne

This is the one-year anniversary of the Board’s audacious and shameful act to silence members of the public and successfully build a wall around 440 shielding the Board from accountability.  It is as shocking today as it was one year ago.  Suppression is a tactic used to undermine Democracy which allows for the public to participate fully in their government.  It is no accident that the Board flexed its muscles in the middle of a pandemic.  The cover provided by severe in-person restrictions was the perfect venue.  The chorus of voices rising in fear, anger, and despair over District decisions is only growing so it makes perfect sense to suppress participation when accountability and public engagement are not the Board’s end game.  

The lack of action or even acknowledgement by the mayor and city council makes one wonder if they are using this as a test for their own speaker considerations.

The PA Sunshine Act protects the public’s right to participate in their government and this is a violation of the Sunshine Act.  The Board is comfortable letting the legal case brought by the ACLU slog its way through the courts without concern for district legal fees that may accrue.

The Board’s cap of 30 speakers was reached way before the speaker registration deadline.  No one knows how many have been denied their ability to publicly address this governmental body.  I was at least one of them.  

Adding to the Board’s disgraceful response to transparency and public engagement in the middle of a pandemic is the two-tiered response to pandemic safety.  As Omicron surged, the Hite administration stubbornly refused to close schools through the worst of the surge. Instead, the district was on a roller coaster of school closures. But those closures were only the tip of the chaotic iceberg.  Staff and families struggled mightily to maintain open and safe conditions for students only adding to the trauma of all.  

Meanwhile Board meetings are barely hybrid.  Board members are not required to be in person (as all school-based personnel are), and there is no socially distanced guidance for allowing members of the public into the building.  So once again, the Board uses the cover afforded by the pandemic to take advantage of the people you represent while throwing your own staff and students under the Omicron bus.  No wonder you have capped speakers at 30.