"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When Is A Public Meeting NOT A Public Meeting?

The sign at the back of the auditorium in which the SRC meets says "legal capacity 240". According to several sources inside the auditorium at about 3:45 PM today, there were 160 people in the room. That is apparently when the (at first unnamed) Fire Marshal (later the name Bill Bankhead was given out by a School District Employee) decided the room was "over capacity" and closed the SRC Meeting to any more members of the public. The School District set up a video feed and seating area in a downstairs lobby--but a viewing area IS NOT participatory, it is passive. Here is an account of what happened when the public, including TAG members, parents, students, teachers and other members of the public tried to attend the meeting:
*When I entered the 440 building at about 3:45, the polite and professional school police officer at the entrance told me the meeting was full, but I could sit in the viewing area. I said I was going to try to go up, he said "good luck" (not unpleasantly).
*When I got upstairs to the hallway leading to the auditorium, about 20 or so people were waiting there. I talked to fellow TAG (Teacher Action Group) members, and asked the school police officer guarding the door from the public if I could go in. He said the fire marshal had declared the meeting over capacity. (I have this officer's name, but will not print it for fear he will lose his job).
*I pointed out that there were clearly empty seats visible on the video feed. The officer told me "do not question me again" and to go sit down.
*I asked the officer for the name of the fire marshal, was it a city fire marshal, a school district fire marshal, what was his/her name? He said he did not know, but that the school district had fire marshals. I again asked for the name.
*During this time, students, parents, community members and other members of the PUBLIC were trying to gain access to a PUBLIC meeting and were being turned away. The officer was professional and somewhat polite, but clearly getting frustrated.
*When questioned again by me and several other people, the officer again said he did not know the name of the fire marshal, but the Lieutenant (nameless) did. He refused a request to call said Lieutenant so we could find out which PUBLIC official had closed a PUBLIC meeting.
*At that point (about 4:15PM), more and more people were arriving, and it was becoming clear that the people gathered were NOT going to leave. The next person who asked the officer why the meeting was closed was told "My boss told me not to let anyone in." The fire marshal/over capacity story had been abandoned completely.
*A School District official came out (everyone I saw was very careful to have their picture ID turned AWAY from the public) and said they might have room for 20 people in a few minutes. The officer said he would pick the 20 people who had been there the longest, and tried to rationally choose people to enter. He was a little rude to some young students (who had not said anything disrespectful that I heard), and several TAG members allowed students to go into the meeting in their stead.
*At 4:30, some us were finally admitted to the meeting. We were instructed to take empty seats and NOT stand in the back. (Although there were many District Officials standing in the back).
*I believe this instruction was given to make sure we could not all stand together for our protest.
NEXT UP: Inside the SRC Meeting:
OK--We were in the public meeting. I sat next to a nice woman who lent me her printed agenda with the speakers listed. We were there to listen to testimony and carry out a respectful democratic action (holding up signs demanding transparency and putting duct tape over our mouths to symbolize our voicelessness).
*I was quite moved by some of the testimony, and perplexed by others.
* Some students from Martin Luther King High School (scheduled to be Renaissanced) spoke movingly about their attachment to their school and teachers/counselors, and their strong feeling that they should not be considered failures, and their hope that their school would not lose the programs they valued.
*Onika Richardson, a well-spoken student from Audenried who squared off against Ackerman last week spoke again, and said she had brought data to prove that the District's stated data about her school was inaccurate. She offered the data to the SRC--they took it. She also mentioned that she and her fellow students also felt disrespected in meetings with District officials because said officials often "played on their phones and texted" during the meetings. Behavior, by the way, which a teacher or principal would not tolerate in class.
*Next was the brave Mary Delsavio who brought a letter from a frustrated and burned out (yet dedicated) Promise Academy teacher delineating the many problems with the Promise Academy model. Now, at the SRC meetings, each registered speaker is announced as he/she approaches the podium and the names are on the printed agenda--however, when it became clear that Ms. Delsavio was reading a critical letter, a member interrupted her to ask her name AGAIN (what, he was not listening?). She continued to read a very lovely and well-constructed letter about the constraints of the scripted curricula and other features of the "promise" model. The letter was long, but the audience was rapt and then Archie imperiously interjected "you will need to sum up, there are other speakers." Many speakers then called out "We'll wait.", but Archie insisted on the summing up--which Mary then did. She left the podium only to be called back by the very people who had wanted her to hurry---they very pointedly said "What is your name again?" Now, her name had been announced TWICE, they had a printed agenda in front of them, but they asked her name AGAIN. There was a palpable and uncomfortable feeling of intimidation in the air. She said her name, they said "You are here as what?" (I guess meaning a community member, parent , teacher, etc...), and then asked her what her position was (teacher mentor), and pressed rather hard to know WHO wrote the letter (she refused to say, citing fear of "pushback"-- I wonder why). They then said, "Can we at least know what school, so we can investigate?" (Perhaps meaning intimidate teachers and pit them against each other.) Mary said she would not answer and said that she knew as a mentor that the letter could have been written by many of her teachers.
*It was during some of these testimonies that TAG members stood (silently) with duct tape on our mouths and signs demanding transparency and voice.
*Up next was Desiree Whitfield, a parent of a kindergartner from Greenfield who has shown up to defend Ackerman a couple of times lately. Which, I will say, is her right as an American. However, she read an ill-informed and inaccurate screed against Hope Moffet--making it sound (wrongly) as if Moffet had personally set up the walk-out at Audenried and forced the students to the rally.
*Lisa Haver spoke eloquently abouth the need for community involvement and voice and questioned why the SRC (as the old School Board did) could not have at least every other meeting at night in a neighborhood school (where parking and access are not limited). Good question--no answer forthcoming.
*A bus company owner (Mr. Wilson) spoke about the need for more transparent bidding procedures for contracters.
*Teacher Sharon Newman spoke passionately in defense of young, enthusiastic teachers like Hope Moffet, and appealed to the SRC to take all the facts into consideration.

At this point (about 5:15 PM) an SRC member noted that they had been "working since 8:30" (though the meeting did not start until 2:00) and needed a 15-minute break. Fair enough, most teachers (and I daresay parents) had been working since 7:30, so we all needed a break. At that point, I left to go home and continue my workday as a teacher (grading, e-mailing, setting up meetings, etc..), and the SRC meeting went on.... All in all, an interesting experience, but I did get a feeling that, at points, the SRC was just going through the motions of hearing the community.