Residents share concerns with the School Board

Published 5:38 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

With this year’s school season winding down, concerned citizens attended the Thursday, June 8 School Board meeting to voice their concerns.

Topics ranging from communication issues, FOIA concerns, 4×4 block schedule affecting studies, and divisiveness were brought to the table during the public speaker non-agenda portion of the board meeting. 

Speaking on behalf of her 5-year-old grandson in special education, Suffolk resident Gloria Griffin told the board about a string of communication issues dating back to August 2022 that led her grandson to miss a whole term of school.

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“I’m getting a lot of ‘I don’t knows,’ lack of communications, no return calls, none of that,” Griffin said. “Now he’s missed a whole year of school, but they want to put him in summer school. We’re not doing summer school. I just need you guys — please, please, please — look into this. Somebody get back in touch with me. Tell me what happened. Somebody dropped the ball, and my grandson didn’t go to school.”

Following her time expiring, Chairman Tyron Riddick thanked Griffin for coming out and followed that SPS Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, Ph.D., would get back with the board to provide more information on the situation. 

Next, Travis McKinney of Suffolk came to the board to speak out on Freedom of Information Act issues.

McKinney said he had planned to prepare a statement offering a contract on these issues. 

“I’ve got and decided it’s a waste of time,” he said. “So what I have done is that I made a comparison of the 210-page Suffolk School response and the police, fire and other city officials in their responses to my FOIA request, and I am going to show them the comparison of what the school redacted to this compared to the other agencies gave which are the exactly the same thing and I am taking to the FOIA counsel.”

McKinney said that depending on the counsel’s response, it will determine if he, School Board Attorney Wendell Waller and the judge will “have a conversation.” Likewise he addressed a member of the school board making “disparaging remarks” and mocking public speakers.

“For example, on the 26th of April, the superintendent made a remark about a desegregation order. May 11, my wife read the desegregation order, and for that she got called ‘a Jim Crow, Jane Doe analysis,’” he recounted the board member’s comments.

McKinney ended by saying he, his wife and a lawyer will be having a conversation on the “level of defamation and slander” that would bring. 

Student Aram Arakelyan followed by speaking out on how the 4×4 block schedule will affect King’s Fork High School students studying the International Baccalaureate Program.

“For example, as a student prepares for weeks of exams, they will also be expected to complete work and an additional elective whereas this time could be catered in a IB focused schedule,” Arakelyan said. “Additionally, as IB’s on a 5.0 scale and have little to no option offered at King’s Fork High School for 5.0 classes, a 4.0 class is inevitable; reducing students’ GPA artificially. This also makes college candidates less competitive and reduces our opportunities for scholarships.”

He said that as an IB student, he and fellow students have been encouraged to think freely and speak for themselves.

But when speaking out to their administration about this issue since January, Arakelyan said they have been “left out to dry.”

“I speak on behalf of those who are impacted and our dissatisfaction can be voiced to no further extent,” he said. “To all those in IB, explain to them why they shouldn’t be given the same opportunity as years past or others in IB schools.”

Senior Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church and Vice President of the Epsilon Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Dr. Trevon Boone took to the podium to speak on the “sense of divisiveness” within the School Board and its effects.

“It is time that we recognize the detrimental effects of this divisiveness and strive for a change to an approach that fosters unity, collaboration and unwavering support of our educators, of whom I am married to one,” he said.

Boone further said when board members are “constantly at odds” with one another, it becomes “nearly impossible” to create policies and decisions that put the priority  on their students.

“When different groups within the group are more concerned with proving their own points rather than finding common ground, the needs and concerns of our students take a back seat,” Boone said. “It becomes a battle of egos where personal agendas overshadow the greater mission of providing the best education for our students. In order to truly support the efforts of our school staff, we must get rid of the sense of divisiveness and replace it with a spirit of unity and collaboration.”

“Our students depend on you, and children do what they see adults do,” he noted.

 

Editor’s note: Updated fourth passage and third quote at 11:09 a.m., Monday, June 26 to reflect accuracy and quote clarification.