Ears on the Board of Education: April 22, 2021

by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin

The Board continued its repressive speaker policy by excluding four APPS members from speaking at this meeting. Their topics were also excluded. The sign-up window opened at 5 PM Monday and closed just a few hours later, so it is likely that many other members of the public were not heard.  Education activists who can only speak every other month are now limited to an average of one minute per month to speak before the Board votes on items representing hundreds of millions of dollars.  

APPS did achieve some victories.  The Board voted to withdraw the Item to grant KIPP Charters several amendments including enrollment expansion.  APPS had written a letter outlining the many issues, beginning with the various names of the school on different websites, asking that the Item be withdrawn until the facts were sorted out by the CSO and presented for public scrutiny, including the reasons why the CSO was recommending that KIPP’s entire request be granted. APPS had also communicated to the Board in written testimony, letters and research reports about why they should vote to proceed with the non-renewals of Universal Bluford and Daroff charter schools. The Board voted for non-renewal.  

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City Council and Mayor Kenney Must Direct Board to Rescind Regressive Speaker Policies

This week, APPS sent the following letters regarding the Board of Education’s speaker policy to mayor Kenney and each member of Philadelphia City Council:

April 14, 2021  

Dear Councilmember,   

On behalf of the members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, we are writing to ask that you take a stand against the Board of Education’s silencing of the public at its public meetings.  

Over the past three months, the Board has imposed a succession of changes in their official speaker policy designed to silence their critics. The Board has, for the first time in District history, implemented an arbitrary cap of thirty adult speakers and ten student speakers.  No matter how many official items are on the agenda, or which urgent issues arise—closing of schools for lead and asbestos toxicity, reopening schools during the COVID crisis, for example—the number of speakers will remain capped, preventing members of the public from being heard.

  The Board has also imposed a two-minute limit on all speakers. No other governmental body, including City Council, cuts speakers off after two minutes. This new policy makes it difficult to present a coherent argument for or against any official item.  It also reduces the number of issues any one speaker can address.    

The Board has also made it more difficult for people to submit written testimony and to have that testimony heard during Board meetings.

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Unjustly silencing critics is backward move from Philly school board

A Philly school board meeting on March 18, 2021. Kristen A. Graham

The following commentary was written by APPS co-founder Lisa Haver and published by The Inquirer on April 12, 2021.

In February 2015, School Reform Commission (SRC) chair William Green made a unilateral decision, with no public vote or notification, to have police search the bags and confiscate the signs of parents and community members who came to be heard on the issue of impending charter expansion. Several members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS), a grassroots education group that I cofounded, refused to submit to searches and were detained and had their signs confiscated.

It wasn’t the first time the SRC tried to silence members of the public, and it wouldn’t be the last. Members of grassroots organizations including APPS often found themselves placed at the end of the speaker list despite having signed up first. But the SRC never barred me or other APPS members from speaking.

Things have changed under the current school board. Before the March 25 meeting, three APPS members were notified that although they signed up on time, they would not be placed on the speaker list.

Over the past three months, the board has rolled out several changes in official board policy designed to silence regular critics of district leadership, including an arbitrary cap of 10 students and 30 adults. Speakers who signed up to speak at the Dec. 6 charter hearing saw that the notice now said two minutes, instead of the usual three. When APPS members asked when the board voted on these changes, we were told that these were not policy changes — they were procedural changes — so the board didn’t have to hold a public vote or give public notification.

Even if it were true that decades of precedence could be ignored, what does it say about the board that secrecy is the best policy? Are they turning decades-long policy and precedent on its head to shield themselves and the Hite administration from criticism?

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Defenders of Public Education Speak before Board of Education: March 25, 2021

Click on the title to read a transcript of the speaker’s testimony.

Certified Teacher Librarians in School Libraries Improve Reading by Deborah Grill

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is for Good People to Say Nothing by Lisa Haver

BOE Self-Serving Guides and Guardrails and Other Negative Behavior by Karel Kilimnik

Budgets by Kristin Luebbert

Transparency Matters by Diane Payne