Editor, Rappahannock Times:
Is it legal or ethical to enforce a regulation that hasn’t yet been written or promulgated?
Prior to last month’s school board meeting on August 21, I fully intended to sign up to speak by noon on the day of the meeting. On July 10, “on a motion by Scott Croxton, seconded by Mike Wind, the Board approved that regulation BDDH-R be changed to require public comments be submitted in writing to the Board Clerk before 12 p.m. on the day of the meeting” (July 10, 2023 Essex School Board Meeting Minutes).
With the busy-ness of raising two young kids and the craziness of my work schedule, however, I missed the deadline. My confusion arose when, at 5:30 p.m. that evening, I checked the ECPS website for the official regulations regarding speaking at school board meetings. I discovered that the online version of regulation BDDH-R in the ECPS policy manual remained the 2018 version, which allowed members of the public to sign up at the meeting prior to the chairman gaveling in the session. In the absence of any official communication from ECPS to the public regarding the updated regulation and the failure to post the new regulation on the website, I assumed I could speak under the existing regulation. Consequently, I, along with another member of the public, signed up to speak before the chair gaveled in the session. Unfortunately, during the public comment session, we were not allowed to speak because we had not signed up by noon that day.
Note that on July 10, the board voted that “regulation BDDH-R be changed,” however, by August 21, the regulation had not been changed. The board still felt that they had the power to enforce an unwritten, unpublished regulation. Please note that, in my opinion, the blame for this rests squarely with the board’s majority— which voted to implement this new regulation in the first place—not with the chair or superintendent.
I spoke to a board member in the parking lot after the meeting and asked why they felt the need to change this regulation when the public was clearly against it (per several speakers at the July 10 meeting). The response that I got was that several board meetings had run extremely long during the Covid pandemic due to numerous public commenters. That was over 18 months ago; it does not explain the decision to make the change now.
I then emailed the board and superintendent asking what was found when the board vetted the legality of the updated regulation. Additionally, I asked for a clear and concise rationale for the regulation change. I spoke to one board member by phone, left a voicemail for another to call me back (it was unreturned), and received an unhelpful email response from a third.
I’m still waiting to hear a cogent rationale for this regulation change or whether any of these decisions were legal.
To wrap up, I would like to suggest that if the Essex County School Board would like to improve the current state of ECPS, they start by listening to the members of this community.
Dr. Rob Wright
The August 23 edition of the Rappahannock Times had an article about a new restriction on teachers making comments at school board meetings. I attended several School Board meetings where teachers voiced valid concerns about the school administration. The teachers’ presentations were professional and respectful. Our School Board has voted to require persons making public comment at the school board meetings to sign up by noon on the day of the meeting to be allowed to speak. It seems our school administration and School Board would like to silence, or at least limit, any controversial discussion from the people they represent and the educators of the county.
The teachers presented their concerns at the School Board meetings because the administration had failed to address them. ECPS experienced a huge loss of staff this year, including veteran teachers, counselors and principals. Our current administration blames this situation on the employees’ attitudes. They don’t take responsibility for the fact that poor morale is caused by poor management. Our elected School Board representatives have failed to act upon concerns that have been brought to their attention. Not every issue can be resolved, but the attitude shown of “if you don’t like it you can leave” has resulted in a shortage of teachers in the current school year.
Several months ago, I attended a meeting where the current school budget was proposed to the County Board of Supervisors. The budget exceeded the funding available by about $800,000.00. At that same meeting, our school administration was very focused on esthetic school improvements. There was reference to a new state-of-the-art concession stand at the high school and a state-of-theart track, and new electric busses. We were told these items are grant funded and the county tax dollars were not used to provide them. However, those esthetic improvements do nothing to improve the education provided in our county. The administration’s focus seems to be misplaced.
ECPS has one of the largest central office staffs in the surrounding area. A large percentage of the school budget is spent on these administrative positions, leaving insufficient funds to address the actual education of our county’s children. The number of para professionals was cut, leaving classroom coverage weak. Our teachers have to provide their own copy paper! Maybe it is time for an audit of how the educational funds are spent. Our school administration and School Board need to take a hard look at where they are failing the children and the taxpayers of this county. If we want to hire and keep effective teachers, we must improve the climate in our schools. Administration needs to treat teachers like the valuable asset they are and listen to their concerns with an intent to bring change.
While the Humans of Tappahannock Episode showed our town in a beautiful light, I feel that it highlighted a very small part of our community and culture that doesn’t reflect at all across the board with our populous. The community at large here is very diverse with many ethnicities and multiple socioeconomic classes who were not represented. Most of us can’t relate to the feel of that episode and probably felt lost watching it. I couldn’t even recognize several of the locations. I hope that in the future we can come together and tell a story that is more inclusive and reflective of our community as a whole.