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.
Ears on the Board of Education: August 19, 2021
by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin
For the first time in APPS’ 9-year history, not one of our members was permitted to attend or to testify at a District Action Meeting. Lisa Haver signed up to speak on Action Item 44, YouthBuild Charter Renewal; Lynda Rubin to speak on Action Item 2, an $800,000 grant over ten years from the University of Pennsylvania for a kindergarten teacher at Penn Alexander School. Both were notified that they would not be permitted to speak; thus, the Board deliberately blocked public testimony before voting on those action items, another blatant violation of the state’s Sunshine Act. Of course, there is no way to know how many other parents, students, educators and community members were not allowed to speak. When Board President Joyce Wilkerson attempted to justify the Board’s dismantling of its speaker policy last year, she contended that those policies were preventing a variety of voices from being heard. At every meeting, General Counsel Lynn Rauch reads a statement that the Board wants to “prioritize new voices”. But the Board’s actions belie these claims. The Board no longer limits speakers on a given topic, pro or con; it is strictly first-come, first served. At this meeting, 10 adult speakers, ⅓ of those permitted to speak, addressed one topic–school reopenings. Are we to believe that no parent wanted to address the new bell schedule, which generated several news stories, or the amended 2021-22 calendar that moves professional development half-days from Fridays to Wednesdays? The Board allowed testimony on only six of the forty-eight Action Items. That means fewer perspectives heard on fewer issues. The Board crossed the line at this meeting, however, not just allowing corporate lobbyists and executives to take the limited speaker slots, but actually recruiting them.
The Board could no longer sustain the optics of holding remote meetings while sending students and staff into school buildings at full capacity. They held a “hybrid” meeting at which only Board members, District staff and registered speakers would attend in person; there were about 25 people in a room that holds almost 300. The Board has used the COVID crisis to shield itself from District stakeholders who have criticized not just their speaker suppression but their disregard for the needs of students and families. Their solution: keep those voices silent by keeping them off the speaker list and out of the room.
by Diane Payne
“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” James Baldwin
For the second month in a row, the Board of Education denied some members the opportunity to speak on official items and matters of concern. Due to the Board’s arbitrary changes in public speaking policy, an unknown number of people have been silenced. Without public announcement, debate, discussion, or vote, the Board instituted a speaker policy change that caps the number of student speakers at ten and adult speakers at thirty, and reduces speaking time from three minutes to two. Even the School Reform Commission did not resort to outright silencing of the public. The PA Sunshine Act protects citizens’ right to meaningfully participate in their governments and to be heard on all official business. Shocked reaction to this speaker suppression has come from staff, Parents, students, community members, local politicians, the Education Law Center, and the ACLU. Those objections have fallen on the deaf ears of a Board that touts public engagement while silencing the public. APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU, have filed suit to reverse the speaker policy changes in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Sign our petition here to tell the Board: Stop the Suppression of Public Speakers!
By Diane Payne
The remote February Board of Education Action Meeting again enforced the silencing of students, parents, educators and community members through its regressive speaker policy. The Board’s sign-up process has no transparency, so we cannot know how many were barred from speaking before or after the window closed. How many students and adults were denied their right to be heard? How many ways did the Board violate the state’s Sunshine Act? Both Speaker Lists reflected the Board’s new 10-student and 30-adult speaker limits. This Board, as the governing body of the public school system, has no right to violate the law or its own by-laws by secretly amending official District policies. The Board has an obligation to provide a venue in which Philadelphians can participate freely and openly in governmental business. Other efforts to engage the public should not be conflated with public meetings where the Board votes on official items. The speaker changes first implemented in December include capping speakers and reducing speaking time, as well as moving up the deadline for sending in written testimony. These changes were implemented in secret with no public notification or Board deliberation. They reversed decades of precedent that even the SRC adhered to. APPS members call on the Board to reverse these changes.
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