Here’s the background: in the summer of 2021, after the election was over, I was a part of a group of parents who pressed the district to livestream its board meetings. It was a small victory but a success nonetheless, diminished only insofar as the official written policy exempted workshop-style meetings, justified because of the impracticality of livestreaming from one of the high schools, and the policy promised to keep the recordings up for only a minimum of 60 days, with only Schuler’s verbal assurance that they would not be removed afterwards except for the case of unforeseen tech reasons.
Fast forward to last week, when, on Tuesday February 21 at 4 pm, the school board held a “Special Workshop Meeting.” Unlike the typical “workshop” meeting held at one of the district schools, this meeting was held at the usual board room like every other meeting. There were no technological limitations preventing livestreaming or recording the meeting. But nonetheless, this policy, which parents were assured merely referred to meetings where it wasn’t feasible to livestream, was cited by the district’s FOIA officer to explain why the meeting was not livestreamed.
But wait, there’s more!
This meeting was labelled, in the agenda, as a “Staffing discussion for 2023-2024.” But it turns out that this was not a meaningful description of the content of the presentation, which has now been posted as an attachment to the meeting at the BoardBook site. According to the deck, the topics discussed include:
- Increased student mental health needs, with 13% of students being labelled as in need of “intensive” interventions (whether the norm appears to be up to 5% of students from my read of the graphic);
- A deficiency in the number of psychologists and social workers compared to nearby schools;
- A plan to hire an additional psychologist and social worker at each school;
- A description of the English Learner Program and federal and state regulations;
- The doubling of ELL students in five years’ time, from 2020 to a projection for 2024, not counting the Newcomer Academy; and
- Five year budget projections (to be clear, the content of these projections was not included in the slide deck made available to the public, just a statement of the topic).
The use of the statement that this was a meeting about “staffing” was highly misleading.
And it turns out that this same day (according to Google search-by-date), the District posted an announcement that read:
“District 214 is taking steps to support students and staff in the midst of the national mental health crisis. The Board of Education agreed to hire additional personnel to meet the social-emotional needs of students. This includes the hiring of additional school social workers and school psychologists to be placed at each D214 high school.”
To be clear: the board of education did not agree to anything, except informally. They listened to a presentation and appear to have asked questions. They did not take a vote, because votes do not happen at “workshop” meetings.
So why did they have this presentation? To a certain extent, it’s surely the PR, and the ability to claim openness about issues. (A parent in attendance shared a recording in which the interim superintendent praised the group collectively for sharing the information with the public — wholly unconcerned with the fact that they were not actually doing so, by, again, their decision to neither record, nor schedule the meeting at a convenient time, nor provide a meaningful description of the topic on the agenda.) But I cannot help but notice that it also helps the incumbent candidates bolster their claim of active involvement, especially with that false, or highly misleading, statement that the board “agreed” to this plan. As it turns out, less than a week later, at the Daily Herald’s “endorsement interview” on Monday, Alva Kreutzer, as a candidate, appeared to reference this meeting in her statements.
Lastly, the fact that this was posted on the website was unknown to me when I submitted a FOIA request for the slide deck, but, even though it was easily accessible, I did not receive a link to the URL until the very last day specified by law, at, yes, 5:01 pm.
Now, admittedly, this is a small issue. But it is illustrative of the board’s attitude towards the community, and it’s well past time to elect new board members who are more respectful of the community’s right to know what is going on in the district.