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Board of Education General Meeting: July 12, 2021

Board of Education General Meeting: July 12, 2021

CHARLES TOWN - The Board of Education met virtually this week using Zoom, it would seem in an effort to avoid a rally that was scheduled Monday evening at the Board of Education. The video was uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday, and we grabbed a copy to share with you. I posted it that evening, but I wasn't able to get into detail at that time.

The meeting started off with a presentation by Dr Gibson which appears to have been designed to promote the idea of racial inequality in the educational system. Dr Gibson's presentation took about 20 minutes. Afterwards, Donna Joy managed to secure some time and point out how these statistics were seemingly not painting an accurate picture of the overall true performance of the school system.

Racializing achievement is distracting from the overall true performance of the school system.

This is important she said because the true performance of the school system is that overall only 36% of students in 11th grade are proficient in math regardless of race. "The black families that I spoke with, some of them felt that they are being singled out. It's an implication that they don't do as well as other races." she said, pointing out that this is unfair to those families because it's not actually the case since realistically speaking the black students in Jefferson County are performing at a level consistent with the white students at many schools.

Next on the agenda was to discuss the summer school program which is about half way over at this point. We learned that there is actually a waiting list because we don't have enough teachers willing to work the summer semester to fulfill the needs of the students in our county. This is in part due to the pandemic which has rocked the entire world. Normally the summer school system in Jefferson County is expected to serve around 200 students, but this year there were over 1000 students that needed remedial learning over the summer.

While I would love to see every single child who wants a full time summer camp, and transportation, and food, we simply could not garner enough teaching staff who at the end of a pandemic year were ready to turn around and teach for another semester.

With more than 100 students on the waiting list we are only seeing attendance levels around 60%, suggesting there could be up to 300 free seats. Donna Joy made a point to note this and suggested whether it is possible to get the kids waiting into school by filling empty seats be looked into.

The Board then moved to approve the meeting minutes from the last meeting. This is one of those formal actions that really aught not be that controversial since we're just talking about confirming a consistent and truthful record of the previous meeting. Since I have started keeping an eye out for the Board meetings however, this has been a contentious area. Before casting votes to approve the meeting minutes from last week, Dr Gibson made it a point to indicate that minutes are "a record of the action taken and not a transcript". This is in response to discussion that happened in the last meeting in which Donna Joy attempted to ensure that it was documented that the reason she had voted against hiring a new employee was that the role was not yet approved by the Board of Education. Dr Gibson continued with a suggestion that anyone who wants to know more about what is happening in the Board meetings is free to watch the video on YouTube. During her tirade she also made it a point to say that the IT team is impeccable and would never edit, alter, or remove those videos from YouTube.

I know that one of our board members stated that they wanted the minutes to function as a transcript because a video could be spliced or pulled and I want to point out and thank Mr Jason Johnson who uploads the videos for us. He's a 5 year employee and actually certified in Cyber security.

Of course, there is a lot of inaccurate framing in this statement. First, Dr Joy never suggested that the minutes should serve as a transcript. She noted in a previous meeting that often times the minutes include more detail about certain board members participatory commentary than others. Second, "certified in cyber security" doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot when it comes to integrity. Dr Gibson is working overtime trying to make sure everyone who works for the state receives the proper "respect". Third, anyone who is paying attention will know that it's not just our IT department that has the final say on what can and can't be on YouTube. Just this week, Epoch Times reported that a North Carolina County Board of Commissioners had videos removed from YouTube "for allegedly violating YouTube's terms and conditions regarding medical misinformation." This is why I copy these videos to a platform that I manage myself.

Dr Joy tried to have the minutes amended to reflect that she had made a point of order in the last meeting that was not recorded. Her point of order from the previous meeting was that executive session is not transparent as is required for Board actions. Dr Gibson said "and certainly if the board so chooses to designate that as a point of order and amends that is a choice of the board" in response to her explanation. She then went on to say that the executive session process currently being followed is legal, and there is a training scheduled to demonstrate this to her.

Her amendment motion was not seconded of course, and the vote was recorded at 4 to 1 to accept the minutes. This is the same thing that happened at the last meeting when she had attempted to have the minutes amended with a similar complaint. After this rather contentious period the board moved on to citizen's comments. Unfortunately, likely due to the change in venue or technical issues, most of the people scheduled to talk seemed unable to participate. One member of the public did get a chance to speak. Mr Clark told the Board that "all kids are the same." He pointed out that despite the fact that we all have different backgrounds and experiences, what matters with regard to the school system is the teachers and curriculum. He made the recommendation that with all this extra money we should be able to use it to hire teachers. He voiced concerns about Critical Race Theory creeping into the curriculum. "A teacher should be able to teach any human being. No matter what color."

After the period of public comment, the Board moved to the approve the HR Consent Agenda. Again, the un-elected superintendent made sure to point out that she believed a point of order made in a previous meeting by one of the board members was factually inaccurate.

We had a Board member who publicly made an accusation that our Human Resources Department was violating the law through a hiring process, and that statement was untrue both in fact and in law.

We don't have enough information to verify her claim, but Dr Joy, who had been the one to object originally stood by her statement saying "I want to make a motion to pull number 29 from the agenda. That position was never approved by the Board. It's also a violation of state code." The President of the Board then asked for a second which Dr Joy contested was not a requirement. She stated that her understanding was "if a board member asks to pull something, since it's a consent agenda, if we don't agree to it we have to go through each item individually."

Consent agenda is political parlance for a board practice that groups routine business and reports into one agenda item. In this case there was one item that was objected to, but Dr Gibson again interjected and said that only on "small boards" was this particular rule relevant. Again, the other board members coalesced behind the agenda, disregarding her concerns. Her amendment was not approved, and the remaining board members proceeded to vote as a block as expected which resulted in a 4:1 vote to approve the agenda.

Once the consent agenda was pushed through the Board moved on to new business. The only new action was the naming of the Jefferson High School Softball Field. "The official name that's proposed is the Lawrence and Debby Vicars Field" said Joyce White who is in charge of the department responsible for naming the field. Lawrence and Debby "basically built the softball field, maintained the softball field, and participated in work with the concession area" according to Bill Stewart who was asked to speak on the background of their involvement.

After the board unanimously agreed to name the field as requested, the Board moved to vote on whether to go to executive session. Dr Joy made a point of order to note that the proper transparency required of government boards was not being followed if they were to go into executive session at that time.

I want to call a point of order as the public wasn't given any indication of this executive session in the agenda. It's supposed to be listed in the agenda. I mean you've said it now, but technically it's supposed to be provided to the public.

Interestingly, Dr Gibson mistakenly argued that a point of order needs a second on the board.  Now I'm no legal expert, but I think Robert's Rules are pretty clear here. Below is a link to the dummies entry on points of order.

Robert’s Rules for Raising a Point of Order - dummies
Rules are put in place to protect members’ rights, and when the rules aren’t followed, those rights can get trampled. Fortunately, Robert’s Rules says that any member who notices a breach of the rules has a right to call immediate attention to the fact and insist that the rules be enforced by raisin…

The end result of this discussion though was that her point of order was not recognized in an official capacity, and the board voted 4:1 to end the public portion of the general meeting.

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Jamie Larson