SPS settles other business amid contentious debate

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

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Thursday saw an extended night of heated tension, outbursts, and continued division during Suffolk Public Schools’ School Board Meeting. 

Held on Thursday, Oct. 12, at City Hall Chambers, community members came out again to make their voices heard, in both opposition and support, towards draft transgender policy updates that were planned to be voted on that night. However, the decision over Ordinance 23/24-14 was postponed as the Board, in a vote of 5 to 2, voted to table the ordinance until the next School Board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14. Voting in opposition to the decision were Board Members Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck and Phyllis Byrum. 

Despite the contention surrounding the model policy, other items discussed included scheduling a joint meeting with Suffolk City Council on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 3:00 p.m., a resolution to establish a moment of silence during the opening of public meetings and a resolution to appoint a member of the board to serve on the City of Suffolk’s Education Committee. School Board Clerk Tarshia Gardener read the notes for resolution 23/24-15.

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“Whereas City Code Section 2-461 provides that the stated purpose of the Education Committee is to serve as a former channel of communication regarding issues of shared concern between the city government and city school system,” Gardner read. “The committee will strive to strengthen the relationship between city and schools by discussing non-instructional issues including, but not limited to, budget capital improvements, operational savings, safety, and joint uses.”

Before the vote, Board Chair Tyron D. Riddick reflected that the board originally voted no during an April 7, 2022 resolution on the Education Committee as they believed they could “do better with joint meetings.” While Brittingham and Board Vice Chair Heather Howell approved the resolution, Brooks-Buck expressed her opposition.

“There’s is not one of us who can represent the entire board for all of us, and I cannot support this because I don’t understand why we would, as one individual, go in and speak for the entire board on these types of issues when all of us represent different constituents in a city that’s 432 square miles with different interest. So I cannot agree with this.”

Riddick expressed his adamance about joint meetings with the city council while noting that he reached out multiple times to the city for joint meetings.

“Building a better relationship, yes, that’s a must. I do believe that there is another way to do it, and that way is joint meetings with both bodies. That is the Mayor, myself, the City Manager, Dr. Gordon, Vice Mayor, and Vice Chair, engaging in meaningful conversation that is Suffolk Public Schools staff having more than a ceremonial involvement in the 2045 comprehensive plan as far as the development of neighborhoods and where we’re projecting growth. Because it directly impacts an already strained system.”

The resolution failed with a vote of 3 to 4, with Brooks-Buck, Byrum, Jenkins and Riddick voting in opposition. 

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 14.