“Sunlight or prison walls: I’m going to go with sunlight and having windows.” –Kelly Fields, principal, Accelerated Learning Academy, Jan. 18, 2023
“There was nothing that happened here (ALA) on campus … The campus has been safe and secure.” –Keiona Murphy, assistant superintendent, Flint Community Schools (FCS)
By Harold C. Ford
The Flint Board of Education (FBOE) wrestled with two recurring issues – one national in scope and another particular to the Flint panel – at its most recent public meeting on Jan. 18, 2023.
Flint’s Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA) closed for one day on Jan. 18, 2023 in response to a telephone threat lodged the morning of the prior day on Jan. 17. Classes resumed at ALA on Jan. 19 with a modified backpack policy.
The incident at ALA was reviewed at the regular meeting of the FBOE on Jan. 18 at which the board voted unanimously to review the district’s backpack policy beginning with the board’s Governance Committee.
At the first full meeting of the panel’s newly-elected leadership team, parliamentary untidiness once again, as in the past, characterized the manner by which the board conducted its business. Fully one-fifth of the FBOE’s meeting time – 24 of 120 minutes – was spent on one motion that never received a seconding motion as required by Roberts Rules of Order and a second for which the panel was poorly prepared.
ALA Principal Kelly Fields was called to testify before the board at its Jan. 18 meeting in impromptu fashion. A career educator at multiple positions in Flint schools – teacher, reading interventionist, administrator – Fields resolutely called for a ban on backpacks.
“I feel very strongly that the safest thing for me to do for my students is to eliminate backpacks,” Fields declared. “It’s about everyone being responsible for security of the buildings.”
Clear backpacks are not the answer, according to Fields. “Things can still get through even with clear backpacks,” she said.
Fields cited the following as measures in place that help ensure safety at ALA:
- Bathroom checks every 10 minutes;
- Exterior perimeter walks by security personnel every 30 to 45 minutes;
- Security personnel stationed at key locations at key times during the school day;
- Teachers at their doors at the change of classes;
- Operational security cameras;
- Functioning metal detectors;
- Regularly scheduled emergency drills.
Fields indicated that the P.A (public address) system at ALA was not operational, but that a coded bell system had been implemented in its place.
Further, Assistant Superintendent Keiona Murphy said that a fourth “safety advocate” had been added at ALA where the student population numbers less than 200.
While the threat to ALA on Jan. 17 was never described in detail, comments by Fields and FBOE members intimated that weaponry was intrinsically involved.
“The fact of the matter is … if a student wants to get a gun into any building, not just Flint Community Schools, but any building, they’ll get a gun into a building,” Fields concluded. “Guns have made their way in, even through metal detectors.”
Fields is no stranger to young people coming of age in a violent gun culture. “This is the longest I’ve went without having kids die (in off-campus violence),” she said. “It’s been three years.”
With tacit approval from the FBOE, Fields planned to reopen school by collecting backpacks at the entry door to the building. “Like Hotel ALA … we’ll check your bag and give it back to you at the end of the (school) day,” she said.
In a nod to female students, Fields plans to set up “vanities” in bathrooms that would include toiletries such as hair care products and other items. Purses would be allowed into the building, according to Fields, as “purses are an easy search.”
Further, ALA students have access to “online lessons” and a “dual set of books” that enables instruction and learning in school and at home.
In response to the query of one board member, Fields indicated that a well-designed set of district policies are already in place for students who require medications during the school day.
“Capturing Kids’ Hearts”
Fields was lauded by Murphy and others. “She is a nationally recognized showcase school for Capturing Kids’ Hearts,” Murphy declared. “She has implemented well (practices) to an exemplary status … to the point that she made relationships make the difference.”
Capturing Kids’ Hearts originated in 1990 in College Station, TX in which educators focused on: “cultivating relational capacity, improving school culture, strengthening trust between teachers and students, building self-managing classrooms, creating accountability, improving academic performance, fostering trauma-informed care.”
A demure Fields credited her FCS colleagues in helping to build an alternative school setting at ALA that is regarded by many as a success. “I deeply appreciate the support I’ve gotten over the past 24 hours,” she said. “They’ve (FCS administrators) responded pretty quickly … What’s going to make me feel safe is what makes my scholars and staff feel safe.”
After an extended Q and A session with Fields, Laura MacIntyre, FBOE assistant secretary-treasurer, moved to adopt a backpack policy and then an amended version of that motion within minutes. MacIntyre’s motion(s) never received a seconding motion as required by Robert’s Rules of Order.
FBOE policies mandate that meetings be governed by Robert’s Rules of Order; a copy of those rules is inserted into the board binder of every FBOE member.
Despite the lack of a seconding motion, the panel discussed MacIntyre’s motion(s) a full eight minutes until, realizing the complexity of the matter, all seven members supported a motion by Joyce Ellis-McNeal, trustee, to refer the matter to the board’s Governance Committee. Ellis-McNeal’s motion was properly supported by a seconding motion.
Wash, rinse, repeat
As has happened often in recent years, during an agenda item titled “Remarks From Individual Board Members,” FBOE Secretary Claudia Perkins moved to provide a credit card for a district administrator. Perkins’ motion was supported by MacIntyre.
“Remarks” has been a spot on the FBOE agenda where board members have routinely introduced motions that lacked committee review or public notification.
As with the earlier MacIntyre motion, Perkins’ motion had not been referred to a committee where it could be studied and did not appear on the agenda. The board members, thus, engaged in a rambling, ill-informed, 16-minute discussion until Perkins suddenly “withdrew” her motion, albeit improperly according to Robert’s Rules.
Once a motion is made and seconded, it belongs to the body as a whole. Withdrawing a motion must receive approval by the body wherein the motion was made. The chairperson may simply ask, “Is there any objection to withdrawal?” If no member of the body objects, then the motion is withdrawn automatically. If there is a single objection, a vote of the entire body is then required.
Thus, fully 20 percent of the FBOE’s two-hour Jan. 18 meeting was spent on two motions for which the panel was not prepared.
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Future FBOE meetings are scheduled for the following dates: Feb. 8 (Committee of the Whole or COW); Feb. 15.; Mar. 8 (COW); Mar. 15; Apr. 12 (COW); Apr. 19; May 10 (COW); May 17; June 14 (COW); June 21. Meetings are held at Accelerated Learning Academy, 1602 S. Averill St., Flint, MI 48503. Meetings can be attended virtually; interested persons should visit the FCS website to register.
EVM Education Beat reporter can be reached at email@example.com.