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

Ears on the Board of Education: March 25, 2021

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!

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Defenders of Public Education Speak Before the BOE, January 28, 2021

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

It is Time for a Change by Dana Carter

Restoration of School Libraries with Certified Teacher Librarians (CTL’s) by Barbara McDowell Dowdall

Goals and Guardrails Do Not Hold Hite Accountable by Lisa Haver

Community Disengagement Explodes by Karel Kilimnik

Data Dazzle with New Glossary, or Equity? by Robin Lowry

Action Item 16: Spending $300K on a Program to Help Schools “Keep Track” of PBIS Points and Rewards by Kristin Luebbert

Simplify the Student Name Change Process by Maddie Luebbert

“Demotion” of the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs by Dr. Cheri Michaeu

Silencing Voices of Philadelphians Who Care about Their Public Schools by Diane Payne

It’s the same old song, with the same old meaning, and it’s still plain wrong [wasting $300,000 on positive motivation program] by Ilene Poses

So Very Many Things Wrong, So Many Excuses by Zoe Rooney

Limiting Public Testimony in the Wake of Reopening Schools by Sonia Rosen

Action Item 16 Contracts with Motivating Systems LLC and Kickboard, Inc. by Lynda Rubin