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School Board decisions met with frustration

School Board decisions met with frustration

As promised I am writing an update now that I've had a chance to watch the latest Board of Education regular meeting video. I have been out of the loop for a few weeks because of personal issues so I was only briefly aware of the fact that, starting yesterday, children were going to be released from school 3 hours early on Fridays to allow them to perform their administrative duties. As I hoped the parents also discussed the NSBA issue which has grabbed national attention with brief mentioning of the underlying issues that have parents upset. One parent put forward some very good points regarding the potential risks of mask wearing for students.

The meeting opened up with discussion about virtual learning platforms. I would like to spend a bit of time talking to the community about the real cost and necessity of the complex network of paid software solutions our tax dollars are being used to fund, but I'll do that in a later report. The same speaker reported to the board that the preference for "asynchronous learning" is due to staffing shortages. He goes on to speak for several minutes to justify the need for children to have a half day schedule on Fridays. Later in the meeting when the community is provided an opportunity to speak, a parent of a student a TA Lowery recommended incentives for substitutes to be more willing to "step up" and help keep the kids in school because 3 hours a week adds up over a few weeks to substantially less learning time.

The meeting moves through the approval of minutes from the previous meetings without any hiccups, and then citizen comment period opens. There were 5 citizens that chose to speak. Karen Buck and Tracy Cox were first to speak. Karen voiced her concerns about the issues she has with Merrick Garland's decision to use federal force to squelch discontent citizen speech. She told them she was unsatisfied with the decision to make Friday half days moving forward. She pointed out that May 10th is the next election. This is a date that we will be focusing on quite a bit as we start to see who is running to compete with the existing board members.

Tracy Cox spent her time discussing mask mandates. She presented some concerns about the safety and efficacy of masks such as bacterial load. She provided a report from her son that children are being told to flip the mask around if the inside is dirty, and she posed a very good question concerning the "expert" advice that apparently helped the board come to the decision to mask the children in school. It's here where I'll point out that every school administrator was fidgeting with their masks throughout the meeting which is to be expected since loose fitting masks tend not to stay put. If these masks were a real barrier between life and death the way we are being told they are, why is it that the people who set up policy and those enforcing the policy can't even take them seriously? Tracy did a great job of discussing the issues and making this clear, but just in case you don't get to watch the video I want to make sure we get it on record. She points out that the whole reason for this mandate is the federal money the board receives for going along with the CDC guidelines.

If you don't want to be here, and you don't care about the kids, just leave. Move on. They are not to be sold. Kids shouldn't be sold out for money. They should be taught how to care for themselves. Wearing a mask, has it proven to work? I can't say that it has.

Next to speak was Barbara Fuller. She started her 3 minutes voicing gratitude for an opportunity to speak. She then brought to the attention to the board her concern that the Board of Health is now setup to receive $20,000 USD in "excess levy fees" from the Board of Education without any good explanation. This was something she covered very briefly but which I think requires a little more investigation before I can speak on it myself. She then turned her attention to news she had learned at another board meeting that "two elected officials reported that the Board of Education requested police/sheriff support or presence."

Who are you afraid of? We have the grandma in the hat. The mother of 5, the mother of 4, the nurse or the doctor. What are you afraid of? The actions of the board prove that they are unfit to serve our community. If parents scare you, well then it's time to resign. Do better.

Carl Mackey stepped up next. Carl is a teacher for 23 years, most recently out of Loudoun County, and he has a child who attends Jefferson County Schools. His attention was focused primarily on the substitute teacher shortage, and he provided ideas to incentivize substitute teaching so that kids don't have to lose learning time. I covered this briefly above. It will be interesting to see if they are willing to consider alternative options that keep the kids in school.

The last person to speak in this portion of the meeting was Jennifer Krause, the aforementioned mother of 5. She was concerned about the decision by the Attorney General Merrick Garland to leverage the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate and label parents and concerned citizens as "domestic terrorists". She continued "concerned citizens speaking to their elected officials is not domestic terrorism. It's democracy." She requests the board to notify the NSBA, federal and local law enforcement that they "disagree whole heartedly with the United States government attempting to intimidate parents into giving up their first amendment right to free speech" in a public letter.

Dr Gibson, the superintendent for the county, then presented Sam Carpenter, her recommendation for interim assistant principal at Charles Town Middle School. Sam grew up in Jefferson County, and he's been working in Loudoun County as Dean. He didn't say much after her introduction, but he expressed an interest in getting a chance to work with the passionate parents of Jefferson County. The board then moved to the Consent Agenda where they approved changes without any complications. Dr Joy asked a few questions related to the items on the consent agenda that weren't clear to her. The first question was muffled by her mask, but I think she was asking what a "ELA agenda" is. Dr Gibson explained that the item in question related to an advisory panel that was responsible for helping the board adopt a new curriculum. Her second question was related to an item related to a new position being created for existing staff while the existing position is not going to be filled. She sounded confused and noted that this appeared to be a justification for higher pay without adding responsibility to the role in question. If I remember correctly this kind of thing came  up in a meeting once before. I will update this post with a link if I have discussed it. I know there was a new position created, apparently without appropriate board approval back in July.

So it looks like it's a way for service personnel to get a pay increase for doing the same work they are already doing. Is that right?

Dr Gibson rejected this characterization and justified the pay increase/job title change saying we are promoting them to a new position without back filling their existing positions. She agreed with  Dr Joy saying "we should be clear that those positions won't exist any more and we're not back filling them."

Sometimes we try to add too much information and folks get frustrated because we confuse things, and sometimes we try to keep it simple and we don't provide enough.

There was no new business to discuss so the board moved to vote to to into executive session which is a non-public facing portion of the general meeting. I have attempted to reach out to a few of the people who spoke during the citizen comment period, but as of this writing they have not responded. I also reached out to one of the board members for comment on the NSBA letter but have not received a response official or otherwise at this time.

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Jamie Larson