Ears on the Board of Education: October 22, 2020

by Diane Payne

This month’s Board of Education Action Action Meeting featured administration PowerPoints that again failed to reflect the experiences and needs of those on the ground.  Many of the seventy-four registered speakers testified to this lack.  The Hite administration now requires Pre-K to Grade 2 staff to return to buildings on November 9th to prepare for the return of students on November 30th–in spite of still incomplete ventilation reports.  COVID’s main form of transmission is through the air.  People of color are statistically more likely to contract and to die from the illness.  Many older District buildings with asbestos, mold and lead were unsafe for children and adults  before COVID.  Now staff, students, families, and community members are being asked to trust that the District gets this right.  The neglect of the District has caused the illness and impending death of one teacher (that we know of) from mesothelioma.  Failure this time will have immediate and devastating consequences.

Present

The Board is down to six of the nine required members.  Chris McGinley resigned in April, 2020, but Mayor Kenney has yet to reconvene his Nominating Panel.

Click here to continue reading.

Joint Committee Meeting: October 8, 2020

by Lynda Rubin

At the combined meetings of the Student Achievement and Support Committee and the Finance and Facilities Committee, several Board members questioned the accuracy of reopening information District staff has presented. Their repeated follow-up questions to 440 staff struck a different tone than that of previous meetings.  It remains to be seen whether Board members will stand firm in their pursuit of in-depth answers and standards necessary for safety or continue to accept the vague answers given by the Hite administration. 

Board members Angela McGiver, Leticia Etea-Hinton, Julia Danzy, and Lee Huang attended both meetings in their entirety; Maria McColgan joined late. President Joyce Wilkerson appeared at the beginning of the first meeting, but was not seen for the remainder of the session, although she could be heard at times. The Board should display the images of all those in attendance. If that is not possible–if they are connected by phone or their camera is disabled–their names should be on screen for as long as they are actually present. The public has a right to know who is present and who is not. (The Board website page indicates that Ameen Akbar has not yet taken on a committee assignment.)

Click here to read what transpired at each committee meeting.

Defenders of Public Education Speak before the BOE, July 23, 2020


Click on the individual’s name to read their testimony.

Dr. Robin Cooper, President of CASA

Dana Carter

Barbara McDowell Dowdall

Lisa Haver

Karel Kilimnik

Stephanie King

Robin Lowry

Maddie Luebbert

Charlie McGeehan

Cheri Micheau

Diane Payne

Zoe Rooney

Dr. Sonia Rosen

Lynda Rubin

Victory on Reopening Plan for District Parents and Educators

In a major victory for students, teachers, support staff, and principals, the Hite administration will present a reopening plan featuring a full virtual program for at least the first two months of school.    

“The health and safety of the children and adults must be the first consideration in any reopening plan,” said APPS co-founder Lisa Haver. “For now, those who feared returning to buildings without proper ventilation and adequate custodial services can focus on making sure children have the tools they need to learn, in particular reliable internet service.”  Haver added that any hybrid plan considered for future months must fully involve District stakeholders.   

Superintendent Hite had submitted a hybrid plan at last week’s remote Board of Education meeting. That plan was met by almost unanimous opposition by more than 100 people who testified over the 8-hour meeting.    Rather than vote to reject Hite’s plan, the Board took an unexpected vote to recess the meeting, taking no action on any of the Agenda Items. The Items totaled over $190 million in spending, including the estimated cost of the hybrid plan.  

“The Board recessed the meeting just after the speakers portion of the agenda. But they must allow speakers to weigh in on the new plan before taking a vote,” said Haver. “The public had months to be heard via surveys and online meetings. We now have just a couple of days to review an entirely new plan. That is not true public engagement. In addition, the public deserves a full explanation of what business may have transpired behind the scenes during the meeting.”    

The Board came under criticism from APPS members and others for apparent violations of the PA Sunshine Act.  Board President Joyce Wilkerson could be heard on an open mic asking someone whether the Board should recess before voting on anything.   Also, the Board also failed to take public comments when a motion was introduced during the meeting.