Suffolk School Board gather for special meeting on legislative positions

Published 8:18 pm Thursday, October 27, 2022

Members of the Suffolk School Board gathered for a special school board meeting Oct. 26 to discuss legislative positions of the Virginia School Boards Association, approving a resolution to back most of its priorities.

The school board also authorized the office of the school board attorney to make grammatical and non-substantive revisions to the Suffolk School Board policies. The meeting concluded with a presentation of a certificate to board member Tyron D. Riddick for completing the Foundations of School Board Governance.

All members except for Sherri Story attended, with Phyllis Byrum and Heather Howell participating via electronic device due to a medical condition and a family member’s medical condition respectively.


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Committee Report

The meeting included a legislative committee report from Legislative Committee member Lorita W. Mayo.

Mayo reported on the 12 VSBA legislative positions:

  • Fair assessment of English learners
  • State testing and coordination support
  • Educational technology funding
  • School bus purchases
  • School facility construction funds and finances
  • Standards of quality and standards of accreditation
  • Safe school environment
  • Education of children with disabilities
  • Mathematics and science education
  • Increased student access for work based learning opportunities
  • Student transportation and school bus drivers
  • Non-public school student participation in Virginia High School League activities.

Legislative priorities one through 10 were all proposed amendments supported by the legislative committee. Legislative 11 was a proposed new position also recommended for support by the legislative committee. Mayo spoke on the rationale of the recommendation.

“School divisions continue to face critical shortages of qualified school bus drivers, which can at least partially be attributed to barriers to secure a commercial driver’s license.”

Legislative priority 12, however, was proposed to be deleted by the committee. Mayo explained the committee’s recommendation.

“Remove from the legislative position opposition to non-public school students participation in Virginia high school league activities,” Mayo read from the statement. “Local school boards should be allowed to decide whether or not to permit non-public school students to participate in Virginia high school league activities.”

Mayo said the legislative committee does not support legislative position number 12, “and recommends that the Suffolk School Board oppose this position in fairness to the students who are enrolled in public schools, and who are involved in the life of their respective schools, both academically and socially. Non-public school students should not be allowed to participate in Virginia high school league activities.”

“In addition, this will reduce the number of team positions for various sports for those students who attend public schools,” Mayo added in her report.

The resolution approving the 11 VSBA legislative priorities, to be considered by the organization on Nov. 10, was approved by the school board on a 6-0 vote.

Revisions to board policies

The resolution authorizing the school board attorney to make grammatical and non-substantive revisions to the board’s policies also moved forward at the meeting.

Board Attorney Wendell M. Waller explained the resolution in detail.

“The resolution covers grammatical and non-substantive changes made to school board policy. As you may be aware, several times during the year, VSBA submits to local school boards proposed changes to the school board policies,” Waller said. “Oftentimes, those changes coming down from VSBA, are grammatical in nature. It may be where it’s going from a shell to a will, and one of the things in your policies currently is it refers to ‘chairman’ throughout the policy. And it should be a gender-neutral reference, so it should be ‘chair.’ As it currently stands, in order for that change to be made, it has to come before the school board.”

“And so, my thinking was, and I recommended this to the chair, that we consider, in order to streamline the process for making changes to board policies, that the office of the school board attorney be authorized to make these grammatical and non-substantive changes.”

Waller also explained about a safety valve that is put in place if necessary.

“There is built into this resolution, a safety valve — and the safety valve is that anytime these grammatical changes are made, they have to come back to you. When it comes back to you, if for some reason you don’t agree with the grammatical change that’s been named, you can always vote to reverse it,” Waller said.

Currently, he said there are 75 policies that are in the pipeline that have to be voted on by the board.

“There are an additional 36 policies that are not yet in the pipeline but will be soon. So you can see by the number of policies that it’s very easy to have a number of outstanding policies that the board has not acted on,” he said.

It is not something that will be wide-spread, Waller said.

“For example, in the 75 policies that the policy review committee has recently looked at, there’s only one that actually falls within this category… but there will be limited situations in which this could help you in terms of facilitating the movement of your policies and will not have such a large backlog,” he said. “And I do understand any concerns anyone may have about this process being abused. But again, I think that the safety measure is that whenever the change is made, it also comes before you within 30 days.”

School board member Heather Howell asked about the policy in response.

“How do you take the subjectivity out of that?,” Howell asked.

“The way I look at this,” Waller said, “a non-substantive change would be one that does not impact what the policy says. As long as the meaning of the policy has not been altered. That would be a non-substantive change. Anything that alters the meaning of the policy would have to be decided by this board.”

Howell asked about the possible repercussions this could have in the future.

“When you mention voting to reverse it, if at that point we’re not in agreement with the change, what is that going to look like? If the policy has been changed and then the board, whether it’s us or 20 years down the road doesn’t agree with it, it’s my understanding that it’s technically already become a policy change,” she said.

Then she asked if it would have to go before the policy committee to be reversed and then a first and second reading.

Waller explained what they would do if that were to be the case.

“It could go that route, or it could be where the board would simply move to wave it going to the policy review and simply reverse,” he said.

And keep in mind that 30 days after it’s done, the board has to see it. So, the board can actually send it to the policy review process, which is going through policy review in comes first and second readings of the full school board, or it could simply wave going for the policy review and simply reverse it,” he said. “I would think that the latter would probably be more of what would happen if it would come to that.”

Howell reinstated her concerns about the future being affected by this resolution.

“I appreciate your point-of-view, I represent a whole borough like everybody else does and so I do have concerns about, not necessarily us, but down the road,” Howell said. “And I do understand your explanation about the fail-safe if this were to be abused. I just wanted to go on record taking my concerns as I did to Dr. Buck this morning and then getting your take on it, since I have you here.”

School Board Member Tyron D. Riddick motioned to table the motion for the resolution until the next meeting for further clarity. The vote was marked 3-3 as a tie, causing the motion to fail. The motion to accept the resolution passed with a vote of 4-2. Howell and Riddick both voted against the resolution.

Editor’s note: Story was updated at 11:25 a.m. Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, to correct members present for the meeting. Board member Sherry Story did not attend.