Parents, Educators and Students Should Shape District Policies

Policy Committee Meeting: April 28, 2022

by Diane Payne and Lynda Rubin

Exactly one week after this meeting, District parents received an email notifying them that the District would be carrying out weapons searches in middle schools.

The email, signed by “The School District of Philadelphia”, told parents that their children would be subject to “periodic weapons screenings”. The anonymous author of the email wrote, “The District understands that this level of screening may feel intrusive and inconvenient.” Although Board Member Reginald Streater defended the District’s decision in the Inquirer, neither he nor any other Board member brought it up for discussion at this Policy meeting or at the April 21 action meeting. Did the Board not know about the District’s impending action? The Board makes policy on student safety, not the administration.  Why did the Board not give parents an opportunity to weigh in–either for or against–the heightened security measures? 

Policy Committee Co-chair Joyce Wilkerson; Policy Committee Member Julia Danzy; Board Members Lisa Salley, Reginald Streater, and Letitia Egea-Hinton all attended in person.  Cecelia Thompson attended remotely as did Maria McColgan. McColgan is resigning from the Board effective May 6th;  this is her final Policy Meeting.  Although neither the Board nor the Policy Committee took a public vote, Streater was introduced as the new Committee co-chair, and he conducted this meeting. Questions from Board members about policy changes were directed to Chief of Staff Alicia Prince for comments and questions.

The Board considered these policies: 

Policy 102: Multiracial, Multicultural, and Gender Education (elimination)
Policy 103: Nondiscrimination in school & classroom practices (revision)
Policy 104: Nondiscrimination in employment practices (elimination)
Policy 138: English Language Development/Bilingual Education (revision)
Policy 139: Supporting Language Accessibility for Parents  (revision)
Policy 248: Harrassment & Discrimination – Students  (revision) 
Policy 313: Evaluation of Professional Employees  (revision)
Policy 348: Harassment & Discrimination-Employees  (revision)
Policy 701: Facilities Planning  (elimination) 
Policy 714: Facilities Rightsizing  (revision) 
Policy 803: School Calendar   (revision) 

The Board no longer makes hard copies of the present policies or the proposed changes as they did in the early days of the Board. There is no display on screen to show the revisions or eliminations.  To read the suggested revisions you need to go to the committee’s online agenda and click on each policy.

APPS members Lynda Rubin and Barb Dowdall attended this meeting in person.  In addition to hearing the registered speakers, the committee allowed the few members who were present in the auditorium to come to the table and offer comments or ask questions about the policies being discussed.  

Rubin concurred with Board members who spoke against eliminating Policy 102, saying that the policy should be kept in place because the policy has a collection of information all in one place that would be beneficial to the public.  District Chief of Staff Alicia Prince contended, however, that all of the language in Policy 102 could be found in other policies and therefore was duplicate information.  Board members  also expressed concerns that although some of the information in this policy will be included in an equity policy,  that policy has not yet been developed.  Dowdall told the Board that as a teacher she found Policy 102 valuable and was in favor of keeping it. President Wilkerson reminded the Board and the public that since this was the first reading they had time to decide the value of eliminating or keeping this policy.  The Board will take a final vote on these policies at its June action meeting.

In discussion about Policy 138, Thompson pointed out that other than Spanish, interpretation services for families working on their child’s IEP were inconsistent and lacking in quality.

Prince argued that Policy 102 and Policy 248 do not deal with the same issues.  She stated that her office had reached out to a group of District stakeholders for their opinions on the matter, including the Right to Education Task Force.  Thompson, who is a member of that task force, informed Prince that in fact no one from the District reached out to her group about the policy.  This raised the obvious question of the accuracy of Prince’s statement, but none of the other Board members followed up or asked Prince to provide more substantial information.   

Rubin questioned the removal of educator goals in Policy 313 evaluation procedures.  District Counsel Johnson-Carter, called up to respond, said that it doesn’t need to be in the policy because it is in the law.  Rubin pointed out that it would be helpful to have goals in the policy and that policies must be relatable and understandable to all but especially to school district employees who need to follow them correctly.  These policies are not just for the district administrators at 440. Making sure that everyone–not just the lawyers–understands the Board’s intent must be considered before revision or elimination.  Danzy agreed with Rubin and wondered if there was any harm in keeping that language in the policy. 

In reference to Policy 714 and “right-sizing”,  Rubin pointed out that all the definitions were crossed out so that only “legalese” was left. Prince responded that her office is working on a new title for this policy and wanted to avoid “triggering” words that didn’t reflect their intentions. However,  “right-sizing” is in fact the title most would agree does capture their real intent.  The lack of trust in District intentions is deep and far reaching.  Many stakeholders have very real concerns about upcoming school closures.  

Parent Kerry Smith also testified that elimination of  some Policy 102 language   could have “unintended consequences” for students and staff. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, Streater directed Prince and district staff to take the questions and comments they received and revise the policies to reflect the concerns expressed today.  When the policies on the agenda come up for first review at the Board’s May 28 Action Meeting, Streater should confirm that those concerns are reflected in the revised policies. 

APPS recommends that staff, parents, and community members carefully read all proposed policy changes, now and in the future, in order to give the Board the perspective from those affected by the policies.