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Proposed policy stifles members

We are speaking on behalf of ourselves, not as spokespersons for the Suffolk City School Board.

We believe that proposed amendment to School Board Policy Chapter 2, Article 3, Section 2-3.2(E) in reference to a School Board Member placing items on the agenda of any Board Meeting is alarming. It changes the procedure from submitting a request in writing to the Chair and a copy to the school superintendent 14 days prior to the meeting to, “When a school Board member requests placement of an item on the agenda, the Chair will immediately poll member of the School Board separately pursuant to Virginia Code Section 2.2-3710(B) for the purpose of ascertaining a member’s position with respect to the placing an item on the agenda. If any member of the School Board objects, the matter must be placed before members of the School Board at the upcoming meeting and there must be an affirmative vote of the School Board to add the item to the agenda.”

At a Board Development session with the Virginia School Board Association in February 2019, the placement of items on a school board meeting agenda was discussed. The executive director of the VSBA made it clear that any school board member can have an item be placed on a school board meeting agenda. Subsequent to this meeting, this privilege was written into our School Board protocols and norms and approved by the full Board in March 2019.

I, Mr. Mitnick, recently requested that the selection of community members to citizen advisory committees for the 2020-2021 school year be added to the May agenda. This request was also made on behalf of the Special Education Advisory Committee Chair. The school board chair denied my request.

I, Mrs. Story, have requested several items by placed on the May agenda, such as: revisiting the 2020-2021 school calendar in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and additional costs to the district for Scholastic and Edgenuity and a plan to evaluate them.

We both have also requested multiple times that the board discuss on previous agendas, such as the overcrowding of various schools in the district; these requests have fallen on deaf ears. These restrictions by the Board Chair have gone against the norms and protocols adopted by the Suffolk City School Board in March 2019.

We are alarmed with the proposed amendment to the School Board Policy Chapter 2, Article 3, Section 2-3.2(E). It takes away our rights and responsibilities, as duly elected school board members, to place items on a school board agenda for discussion, for information or for updates in order to govern responsibly as pursuant to our sworn oath. In order for either of us to fulfill our stated roles, we must be able to bring items of our concern, or from our constituents or from any member of the Citizen Advisory Committees on which we may serve, to place them on the agenda for a forthcoming school board meeting, without a majority consent by the School Board. The video of the Policy Review Committee meeting on May 7, 2020 made it clear that the members of the Policy Review Committee, along with the School Board Attorney are attempting to stifle requests from individual school board members by adding filters attempting to control the flow of information to the public. This is not acceptable, nor is it considered good board practice, as evidenced by the guidance of the VSBA.

We are appalled by this attempt to stifle board members from requesting agenda items for forthcoming school board meetings. The public needs to be informed concerning vital issues that affect the schools and their children. We have recently witnessed the restricted rights of citizens; the board has denied their right to extemporaneously speak. Now the rights of elected School Board members themselves are in jeopardy of being denied by an apparent “gag-order.” This proposed amended policy will not help our students, nor will it help SPS become the best. Such a policy is unacceptable to both of us, and we feel that the public needs to be fully informed about this alarming proposal. Each board member needs to have a full voice and not be silenced.

David Mitnick is the Sleepy Hole Borough representative. Contact him at davidmitnick@spsk12.net.

Sherri Story is the Chuckatuck Borough representative. Contact her at sherristory@spsk12.net.