The good news is that this is a new Board. Its early, and there is still plenty of time to get it right.
The bad news? Whatever “processes” are being used by the current Branford Superintendent and the Board of Education are resulting in confused and angry parents, a Board makeup that is often confused as to what is taking place, and little to no cohesion at meetings.
More than any specific policy or vote is the matter that leadership has consistently treated members of the public, parents, and caregivers as second class citizens. While there is extensive lip service given to considering these groups “key players” or even “stakeholders,” more often than not a backwards approach to communication leaves those groups marginalized in the process.
Wednesday evening was a prime example of this. Parents and about 95% of those in the audience and those spending their weekday evening at home watching a Board of Education meeting cared about one thing: the mask mandate. The question was simple: would the Board vote to end the mask mandate on February 28 along with the end of the state mandate?
Yes or no would have sufficed. Parents had written countless emails, attended town meetings, testified, had their children testify. They were, by any definition, engaged stakeholders. They deserved an answer, and they deserved to have their time respected.
But what parents didn’t know, and it seems apparent many Board members did not know, was that there was no need for any yes or no vote. It turns out that any authority to mandate masks had expired in the past, and that there was no underlying policy in place that would allow a mandate once the states mandate expired on February 28. So as of March 1, no mandate would exist.
To quote Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer, this is “once again...things that could've been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!”
So all of the public hearings, social media posts, public angst, kids being prepped to testify, all of it could have been avoided had anyone informed the public that this was the case. It could have been mentioned at a past meeting, or put out in a press release.
Doing so would have been respectful of the needs of the so-called “stakeholders.” It would have shown genuine transparency, and saved everyone a ton of stress. But not a word came from the superintendent or the Board. Silence, as parents mobilized and stressed over an unnecessary vote.
It was bad enough no one said this weeks ago, despite it clearly being known. But then we jump to Wednesday evening. Instead of leading off the meeting with this information, parents had to wait 20 minutes to get through other reports and agenda items to get to the item in question. And immediately, one BOE proposed an item removing the mask mandate, and it was immediately seconded.
But wait! We need to not have that vote at that time, and instead wait for some nebulus item no one has seen at the end of the agenda to discuss it. With confused BOE members all over the stage, who very literally stated they had no idea what was taking place, the meeting moved on.
Then we get to the item in question 45 minutes later, and a document is passed out, a new law written by attorneys apparently no one had ever seen. This is the enabling statute that would allow the superintendent to take action regarding Covid if he saw fit.
It may be bad enough that many members were just seeing this for the first time, or getting any sense of what it was. But then there was heavy pressure to vote that night, and not to take time to read it individually, and the concept that the town was in potential major legal liability if it didn’t.
Are we to accept that without such document, the superintendent could not mandate a mask be worn in a class that had, for example, a sudden spike in Covid cases? That’s hard for a logical person to accept.
Are we also to accept that the Board taking time to read the new law, discussing it for a week, then holding a special meeting to pass it would put students in danger? Its hard to fathom.
This isn’t about the outcome. Perhaps the outcome is perfect, or perhaps it is flawed. That’s a different debate for another day. But we cannot keep making claims that the “process” is transparent and open, or that we give a damn about the parents concerns and issues, while we continue using the most confusing “process” that almost always takes far longer than any other town and always results in time wasted by countless members of the Board and the community.
“We have a very transparent process.”
No, you don’t have a transparent process when Board members look lost, new laws are passed out that no one has seen before with only a mandate it be passed that night, without due process. Whatever definition of transparency is being used, it does not match Websters. There is nothing transparent about it.
“We care about parents needs, and consider them stakeholders.”
Yet you had no problem wasting hours of their time delaying the topic 95% of them were there for, and then never explained what a sudden new law was for. Caring about parents would have meant doing what every other town did: announce the mandate would end, and allow parents to be home with their children while the Board worked on the details later.
This Board is a few months old. There is still time to fix the process. But it must start with treating parents and community members with respect; respect for their time, opinions and energy. The mask mandate was a matter that could have put parents needs and concerns at rest with a press release 3 weeks ago, spared them hours of lost time, like all of our surrounding towns.
The first step is for the Board member to realize there is a problem. The good news is this is a new Board.
The bad news is that soon the hope a new Board can deliver will soon turn to apathy unless some members step up and do what they were elected to do.
So how do we address this?
First, all documents to be considered should be posted online with the meeting agenda. This is done for Board of finance meetings, it can easily be done for Board of Education meetings.
Second, Appoint a public relations person for the Board. It can be a member, and their responsibility is to be the voice of the public. Their focus is in getting easy to understand information out to the public in a timeframe that respects that they are not members of the Board, and have no desire to spend countless hours at town meetings.
Third, read the room. When its obvious the majority in attendance are there for one item, move that item up in the agenda where logical. Respect the public.
When looking at Wednesdays meeting, an amazing fact emerges: the Board of Education just passed a major new policy in about 45 minutes that many members had not seen prior and included zero public input. None. Members of the public were not even allowed to comment on the new policy before it was voted on. That’s not respecting any process, the Board members or the public. That’s not having a process, and its treating the public, and their view, as simply a necessary evil. The Board, for lack of a better term, is winging it and pissing off everyone in the process.
Board of Education members are elected. This election was about fixing the Board. So far, its only more of the same.