By Harold C. Ford
“I’m sure looking forward to great things from the board.” –David Guinn, Judge, 67th District Court, Genesee County, comment at start of Jan. 20 meeting
“This meeting has been very, very confusing…If you’re confused, then you know the general public is confused.” –A.C. Dumas, vice president, NAACP Flint Branch, comment at end of Jan. 20 meeting
Parliamentary unsteadiness marked the beginning for a new Flint Community Schools (FCS) board of education at its Jan. 13 and 20 meetings. Despite the confusion, a plan to reopen Flint’s school buildings to staff and students was ultimately approved by a 5-1 vote.
Students can return Feb. 22
Anita Steward, FCS superintendent, laid out a plan to begin returning some students to FCS buildings for face-to-face instruction on Feb. 22 on a hybrid basis. She indicated that staff had already begun to return to buildings on Jan. 19.
Steward said a recent poll of FCS families indicated that 58.9 percent prefer to continue online/remote instruction while 41.1 percent of FCS families favor a return to face-to-face instruction.
“We can do that safely, with social distancing in our classrooms,” Steward said. “Our scholars have not been in school at all since March (2020),” she noted.
Steward said students having last names that begin with letters A through L would attend classes in the school buildings on Mondays and Tuesdays. Those having last names that begin with letters M through Z would attend classes in the school buildings on Thursdays and Fridays.
“This is for those families (41.1 percent) that have opted for face-to-face instruction,” Steward explained. She said that decisions about opening or closing buildings were guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration, and a team of local health professionals.
All students would participate in online/remote instruction on Wednesdays allowing time for the buildings to be cleaned and sanitized.
The hybrid plan for reopening schools was approved by a 5-1 vote of the FCS board at its Jan. 20 meeting. Voting to approve the plan were: Carol McIntosh, president; Vera Perry, vice-president; Danielle Green, treasurer; Joyce Ellis-McNeal (newly elected secretary/treasurer); and newest board member Adrian Walker, trustee.
Laura MacIntyre, treasurer, voted against the plan. Diana Wright, trustee, was absent from the meeting by the time of the vote.
Swift, critical responses
“The dearth of information is really troubling to me,” MacIntyre declared.
“Having explained (the reopening plan) tonight for the first time is a little upsetting,” stated Karen Christian, United Teachers of Flint president. “We don’t really know what the plan looks like and we get it delivered to us at a board meeting.”
Christian further expressed concern about how a hybrid schedule would work for high school students who switch classes several times each school day and how the plan would accommodate students with special needs.
FCS teacher Debra Rinoldo-Hopkins said she was not informed how teaching staff will instruct students online and face-to-face at the same time. “Will I be expected to do dual teaching at the same time?’ she asked.
Christian said her members were unhappy about the cleanliness of the buildings. “Teachers are coming back and cleaning their own classrooms (after being) out for several months,” she said. “If we’re going back to a hybrid system, how can we guarantee…that these classrooms are going to be cleaned?”
Christian questioned the availability of vaccines for FCS staff. She said teachers were apprehensive about coming back for face-to-face instruction without being vaccinated: “I can only think of a handful of teachers that have been able to get an appointment for a vaccine.”
Steward said she was “taken aback” by the criticisms, particularly those that implied a lack of planning. She conceded a survey of FCS staff by the district’s human resources department had yielded, thus far, “a mixed review” about returning to the buildings.
Steward said the return of staff to buildings, a month in advance of any students, would allow sufficient time to offer professional development and finetune systems of both face-to-face and online instruction.
Steward also explained that FCS administration began reaching out to staff as soon as they were informed the vaccines would be available to educators. “The appointments went quickly (such that) some of our staff did not have an opportunity to get an appointment,” she said.
“I’m still working on it,” she said of continuing plans to provide vaccinations to all staffers who wish them. “We’re going to be offering our staff COVID pay,” she added.
The appointment of officers new to their positions, along with the replacement of three veteran board members with nearly three decades of experience by three newcomers with no stated education board experience, may help to explain the unsteady start of Flint’s new board at its January meetings.
The business of the board at its Jan. 20 regular meeting was constantly interrupted by technology glitches, errant parliamentary procedure, and missteps in following the printed agenda.
The confusion led board veteran Perry to declare a point of order at the 23-minute mark. “We are jumping all over the place,” Perry observed. “Now I’m totally confused of what’s even going on.”
“This meeting has been very, very confusing,” declared A. C. Dumas, a longtime official of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Flint branch. “If you’re confused, then you know the general public is confused.”
Just some of the dozens of missteps at the Jan. 20 board meeting are bulleted below:
- Monaca Elston, FCS executive assistant who records the board’s meeting minutes, interjected herself into the meeting 19 times to redirect the board and untangle missteps.
- Despite nearly a year of virtual meetings, technology glitches interfered with the flow of the meeting and derailed it at times. A nearly 10-minute gap (from 42:00 to 52:00) passed while waiting for a required report (COVID-19 Learning Plan Update) to be made available.
- Unwanted background noises and echoes, likely caused by some board members who still operate additional electronic devices during online board meetings, unnerved others.
- Following a lengthy discussion of the board’s most important topic—returning to buildings for instruction—three board members, an administrator, and a staffer—launched into discussions of other unrelated topics for 13 minutes before the actual roll call vote began on returning to buildings. Apparently lost, the board’s president asked, “Ms. Monaca (Elston), can you get us back on track?”
- There was confusion about when the public would be allowed to make comments about the plan to return to buildings.
- Prior to a roll call vote, one board member asked, “What am I voting on?” An incorrect tally was announced after another roll call vote.
- At least one board member was confused because the numbering in his/her board packet did not match that on the agenda.
- Names of board members were mispronounced.
- An opportunity for discussion on motions that were seconded was neglected more than once.
- An end-of-meeting announcement was made before the end of the meeting.
- Board members disagreed about whether or not an agenda item had been voted on.
- Complaints were lodged about missing information and inaccessibility to virtual meetings.
- Board members were uncertain about whether or not they could address agenda items out of order.
The meeting ended the way it began. When given the opportunity to make closing comments, some board members launched into commentary about items that had appeared earlier on the agenda. Questions were asked of administration that would obviously require further research. And one board member attempted, inappropriately, to introduce a brand-new motion.
And so, it went.
“I’ve never seen a meeting that’s been ran like this meeting,” Dumas observed.
The next scheduled meeting of the FCS board is a Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 10. It is followed Feb. 17 by a regular board meeting. Meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. Virtual attendance at board meetings can be gained by visiting the FCS website in the days prior to the meeting and submitting requested information.
Submitting questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, the email addresses of several members of the FCS administration are available at its website.
EVM Education Beat Harold C. Ford can be reached at email@example.com.