Communication and Transparency for Public Meetings and Fall Reopening
I sent the following letter to Superintendent Hutchings and Members of the School Board today. Communication and transparency and strong partnerships with our community and families are key ingredients to the success of our schools and our children. This has been an incredibly tough year and a half for all of us as parents, ACPS teachers, staff and administrators. As we reset and look forward to five days of in-person school on day one this fall, I hope we can build on these partnerships and restore trust.
UPDATE: Dr. Hutchings emailed me back shortly after sending the letter below. He explained the challenges of posting reopening material that can change up until the last minute and the constantly changing guidance. For example, he shared that some of the ACPS plan for fall reopening changed as recently as Tuesday of this week after a meeting he had with the State Superintendent. I know the staff and administration are working around the clock on reopening and I appreciate this context and their efforts very much. I suggested that this context would be helpful to post on the agenda item for the public in advance of the meeting along with any material that they know won't change. I also suggested that the Board consider waving the Wednesday deadline to speak, or finding an alternative date for a public hearing so there is enough time to reflect and respond.
June 16, 2021
Dear Superintendent Hutchings and Members of School Board,
Tomorrow you are asking for public comments on the fall reopening plan. As I write this on Wednesday, June 16, at 8:45 a.m., I wanted to point out that the documents pertaining to reopening are not posted for public review on your site and the deadline for anyone to sign up to speak for tomorrow is three hours away - providing little to no time to review any plans or documents for reopening.
Several times over the last year, documents pertaining to the reopening of schools and virtual learning were posted with less than 24-hours in advance of the meeting for the public to review and posted after a newly imposed COVID-19 deadline requiring the public to sign-up to speak by noon the day before a board meeting. In some cases, the documents were posted after the deadline to sign-up to speak.
Not only does this go against the spirit of School Board policies that require at least three working days' notice prior to a meeting (policy BDDC) and the policy that allows the public to sign up to speak up until the start of a board meeting (policy BDDH-R/KD-R), it lacks openness and transparency.
As we shift to five days a week in the fall and begin to return to some level of normalcy, I urge you to ensure you’re doing everything you can to over communicate with families on policies and issues impacting our schools. Alexandria is a great place to live and work. We have wonderful families who, like our ACPS teachers and staff, were challenged and went above and beyond to make impossible situations work the last year and a half for their children. I very much understand the complexity of our current situation as a working mother of two children (kindergarten and second grade) who works at the national level with teachers across the country. However, to build the partnerships and trust with our community, important documents on school reopening need to be posted with enough time for the public to review and decide if they want to make public testimony.
Kelly Carmichael Booz