The Freedom Of Information Act dictates that the School Board can only go into closed meetings for specific purposes and at the end of the meeting, the Board must certify whether or not the topics discussed were for only the stated purposes of going into the closed meeting. (Code 2.2-3712 D)
On Aug 13th, the Board went into a closed meeting for the purpose of a "grievance hearing" for the Superintendent. Va Code 22.1-79 does not allow for this. The reason for the "grievance" was because the Superintendent wasn't pleased with the performance review given to him by Ms. Hughes (even though he still received 100% of his $11,000 bonus). The other reason was because he wasn't pleased with comments made on my social media page (by the way, the School Board attorney has told us that we cannot censor public comments). Rather than calling me and sharing his concerns with me, the Superintendent decided to file a grievance with the Board for a "hostile work environment" that led to these violations of law by the Board.
Additionally, the law states that the Board cannot go into closed session to discipline a fellow Board member. During this closed meeting I was accused of defamation, lying and nefarious actions. The Board chair even had a 2 page resolution drafted by the School Board attorney condemning me and Ms. Hughes. I did not defame, lie or have nefarious actions and I will not sit idly by and have my character assassinated by my colleagues.
At the end of that closed meeting, Ms Hughes, Ms Weems and I voted to not certify the meeting and stated numerous times that conversations were in violation of the law. However, the rest of the Board did vote to certify the meeting.
Our purpose for hiring attorney Kevin Martingayle was to try to get the Board to acknowledge their mistake and to try to prevent future violations of FOIA. Unfortunately at the last meeting, most Board members still state they did nothing wrong. However, they did decide to vote (8-2) to approve this statement: “To the extent that FOIA was violated, the School Board members will not do it again.” (The Board Chair Anderson still won't admit wrongdoing and voted against this statement even though in my opinion she was the biggest offender of the Freedom of Information Act).
The School Board attorney even stated in last week's meeting that it was not in the Board's best interest to go to court and that the Board was "likely to get slapped by the court" if it was taken to court.
At this time, we do not plan to move forward with a suit against the Board but will expect that our colleagues take the law seriously and stop holding conversations behind closed doors in violation of FOIA.
Last night the Board approved a new survey to be sent out to the community with a clear option of choosing the proposed times or no change. My colleague Ms. Weems also asked that the Board be able to review the survey before it is sent out. So, most likely the vote on the start time topic will not occur at the next meeting.
Thank you to all (on both sides of the issue) who have taken the time to provide input.
One speaker last night mentioned the term "community disruption" regarding the potential negative aspects of the change (known or unknown).
As a Board member I need to weigh the benefits of a later start time with the consequences of the "community disruption".
I do have great concerns of how the proposed times could impact the greater community, especially HS students who need to work or babysit younger siblings in order for their families to be able to function. I also have concerns with the fact that students will still be getting up early for morning sports and clubs which will defeat the purpose of later start times for adolescents.
In the Spring of 2017 VBCPS conducted a survey that asked if respondents favored a later school start time for adolescents. The initial survey indicated that the community supported this idea.
After much research and planning, staff provided the Board with their final recommendations on Tuesday:
Elementary A schools: 7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Elementary B schools: 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Middle schools: 8:40 a.m. – 3:10 p.m.
High schools: 9:20 a.m. – 4:10 p.m.
Additional one time costs of $2.5 million (for field lighting) plus 80 more hours of bus driver time per day (approx $325,000/year).
My colleague Laura Hughes and I have asked for the Superintendent and Board to conduct a final survey now that all costs and final times are known. I do not know if that request will be approved.
I do have a high schooler, so I understand first hand the impacts of this decision. I also understand the benefits of later start times for adolescents.
It is imperative for me to know what the community wants. So, I hope that the Board will agree to a final survey on the topic with all of the information asking the public if they are in favor of making a change or keeping the times the same.
The group e-mail for the board if you wish to provide input directly is: firstname.lastname@example.org
I, along with my colleagues Laura Hughes and Carolyn Weems, have hired Attorney Kevin Martingayle to represent us in a dispute against the School Board. Since the School Board Attorney has given a copy of our complaint to the media, I would like to respond.
On August 13th, the School Board went into a closed meeting for a "grievance hearing". The grievant was Superintendent Aaron Spence . Hughes, Manning and Weems voted against going into closed session and voted against certifying closed session. According to Code of Virginia 15.2-1507(A)(3)(a)(1), the law states "Unless otherwise provided by law, all nonprobationary local government permanent full-time and part-time employees are eligible to file grievances with the following exceptions: (1) Appointees of elected groups or individuals". Dr Spence is an appointee of the elected school board.
We believe it was a violation of the Freedom of Information Act for this hearing to take place. We also believe that other discussions that took place in the closed meeting were a violation of the law.
Our letter that was provided to the media, states that the hearing was related to the Superintendent's accusation of "abusive conduct" and a "hostile work environment". The "conduct" referenced is related to my transparency on social media and posts made by other members of the public on my page. I completely reject the notion that I have participated in any inappropriate conduct or hostile work environment.
My platform when running for office in 2016 was focused on transparency and I do my best to communicate with the public. I expose the truth even if it goes against the "division narrative". I will fight back against any retaliation against me for my transparency. I am employed by and report to the citizens of Virginia Beach.
It is our goal to ensure that the School Board is operating within the parameters of the law and that the public is kept fully informed. We hope that the School Board will comply with the law regarding the requests of our dispute letter and that we do not have to seek resolution in court.
Spence states in his letter to the Pilot “I did not allege abusive conduct on the part of any Board member." Yet in the same letter he states, "One Board member has created a public forum in which I am regularly demeaned."