Monday, June 1, 2015

There's a New Group in Arbor Town; Parents and Teachers are Riled Up!

There is SO much going on these days. And while I was busy with my life, the school world spun madly on...In the last few weeks, the school board has pushed through two very controversial policies at an hour when most of us were sleeping, and without sufficient notice.

I'm talking about the Prohibited Subjects Policy, which I wrote about here, and Draft Policy 5060, which has gone through first briefing. The Prohibited Subjects Policy was first posted in board docs on the day it was voted on, and Draft Policy 5060--which tries to punish families in "application-based programs" who opt their children out of testing--wasn't even posted in board docs until an astute parent asked what that policy on the agenda was.

June 3, 2015 Update: Point of clarification--board policies do not jump unformed to first briefing. This policy, for instance, was discussed at the May 20 Governance Committee, which was a public meeting held at Skyline at 3:30 p.m. FYI, the Governance Committee is where all potential board policies are discussed. [I don't know that the public was there, but the public IS welcome.]

So, long story short, a new policy is not introduced for the first time at a regular BOE meeting; it goes to Governance first. The public is welcome at these meetings. 

And we, parents and teachers and citizens, have been asleep. I know. I--like so many of you--get up early to go to work; and the school board meetings start with almost two hours of presentations, awards, and public commentary. When people do show up at the meetings, they tend to leave after public commentary. Very few people stay around to the bitter end.

How quiet is it? At the last board meeting, Ann Arbor News reporter Lindsay Knake had this tweet:

The next morning, when I woke up, I laughed at this tweet.

This tweet would, of course, be funny--if it weren't so tragic. That means that aside from the school board members and staff required to be there, Lindsay Knake--who has been the education reporter for the Ann Arbor News for less than a year--was probably the only other (awake) observer in the room.

And that, itself, is a failure!

That is not the only failure.

I reject the fact that the board is not following its own, established, policies and procedures. (I'm not entirely sure if the policies were violated in actuality, because I wasn't at the meetings to see what time they discussed certain items, but I'm quite sure they were violated in spirit. Policies 1200 and Policy 1220 were put in place to ensure that items were discussed while people were still awake, and with proper timelines for giving notice to topics.) I wrote about these issues earlier in an Ann Arbor Chronicle article, Good Ideas, Flawed Process. So if I was calling out the board and superintendent on ideas that I thought were good, but the process was bad, you can be sure that I am upset about ideas that I think are bad, where the process is bad.

And I do think that both the Prohibited Subjects Policy and the Draft Policy 5060 are bad. (Look for a post tomorrow on Draft Policy 5060.)

I reject the idea that either policy had to be created or implemented now.

I reject the idea that either policy had to be brought forward without public discussion, sneaked onto the agenda.

I believe that by acting in this way, the school board and superintendent have unnecessarily inflamed passions with both teachers and parents.

It's puzzling to me--and so, so disappointing--that the board and superintendent have turned to poor process on these issues, when they had such a good model of process, and policy development, for the discussions around weapon-free schools. Why not build on that successful process instead?


SO--What Next?

Well, there's a new group in town:

Ann Arbor Community for Trust and Transparency in Schools 

(AACTTS! We hope to have lots of AACTTSion).

Ann Arbor Community for Trust and Transparency in Schools is a new community group focused on how we as citizens and constituents can have a voice in shaping local and state educational policies and decision-making processes. We are coming together to understand and address issues that challenge the values that our community holds as partners in educating our kids.

I don't mind saying that the decisions on these two policies have done a lot to galvanize people. I personally feel that trust in the district is at an all-time low. But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you look at the top of this page, you will see that I have added a "page" to the blog for the AACTTS information. You can click on that tab, or you can follow this link.

Right now we are encouraging people to write to/talk to board members, and there are some sample letters on the page. One-on-one contact is good! Let board members know how you feel--about the policies, about the labor negotiations, about the process the board is using...

You can also sign a petition that is focused on Draft Policy 5060.

Sign the petition here.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!


  1. I have two theories about the introduction of Draft Policy 5060. The first one is the board has completely lost its collective mind as evidenced by the insistence the AAEA contract is expiring, that they had to pass the prohibited subjects policy and now Draft Policy 5060. The other theory is more cynical, that the Board is using Draft Policy 5060 to distract parents from what they're doing to teachers. A lot of attention that had been focused on Board actions related to teachers is now being focused on the draft policy on opting-out. I hope people will keep the teachers in mind when they communicate with school board members.

  2. I really believe that every member of the school board and every member of the schools cabinet wants the best for the Ann Arbor schools. So though I often don't agree with them, I also try not to ascribe cynical motives to them. In other words, I hope you are wrong!