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. 

Will Board Heed Community Concerns About Reopening?

by Lynda Rubin and Karel Kilimnik

At a remote press conference Wednesday, Superintendent Hite and  District and City officials presented the District’s official school reopening plan. Mayor Kenney, Board President Joyce Wilkerson, senior District staff and City officials appeared, making statements and answering questions from reporters. This stood in stark contrast to the virtual “Town Hall” meetings held by the District last week, which no Board member attended and at which no questions asked by parents, community members and educators were answered. 

The  28-page “Advancing Education Safely” (AES)  lays out a hybrid plan that has most students in school for two days and working remotely for three. The document acknowledges two contributing organizations, the City of Philadelphia and Accenture, a multi-national business and technology consulting firm based in Ireland.  Attempts to find a contract with Accenture on the Board’s website were not fruitful. The Board has not released its agenda for the July 23 Action Meeting; it may appear there.

Having attended all of the virtual town hall meetings and recent Board meetings, and having heard from parents and community members over the past four months, APPS has concluded that the Hite administration’s reopening plan fails in large part to address public concerns.

APPS member, teacher and parent Zoe Rooney and teacher Emily Simpson have compiled an extensive list of questions from District parents, educators and community members.

Dr. Hite, in response to a reporter’s question, stated that  this reopening will come at a cost of $60 to $80 million. But that does not include the financial and emotional cost to the students, parents and educators who will be on the front lines in this battle. Parents, notably those who are also teachers, must also figure out how to make this complicated schedule work and still stay employed. Will their employers allow them to bring their children to work three days a week? Will the District provide flex time for teachers with school-aged children? 

Click here to read the rest of the report