Thursday  •  January 21, 2021

Transparency, Collaborative Process and Trust Abandoned by HCPSS Board of Education During Black Lives Matters at School Vote

 

Process matters. Transparency matters. Integrity matters.

 

During the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action resolution part of tonight’s HCPSS Board of Education meeting, something very concerning happened:

Here’s a summary of the events:

 

First, BOE member Antonia Watts read an *old*, differently-worded version of the resolution instead of the final version which had been posted to Board Docs for public access earlier this week and which the Board had collaboratively worked on behind the scenes for the past few weeks to reach a point of consensus. It’s unclear whether this was a mistake or intentional action by Ms. Watts, but if it was an honest mistake, then it would have been very easy to make an honest correction by rescinding the motion & reading the correction version.

 

Next, certain Board members (Cutroneo, Wu, Delmont-Small and Lu) brought up concerns that the resolution that Ms. Watts had read was an old draft and not the agreed-upon and publicly accessible resolution. The final BoardDocs-available resolution differed significantly enough from the older version that Ms. Watts had read and represented deliberate collaborative behind-the-scenes work to reach a final revised form of the resolution that all parties and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department were satisfied with.  A comparison of the old draft resolution that was wrongfully read & passed versus the previously publicly available “final” version that should have been read & passed is shown here:

Yun Lu proceeded to describe a variety of concerns with the motion itself that had been shared with her by constituents.

 

Christina Delmont-Small requested that the motion be amended to contain only the language of the correct version off of Board Docs — Ms. Watts denied this request.

 

Despite being the wrong resolution (possibly the original draft written and sent in by community activist groups), the motion was called to a vote and ultimately passed 6-1-1, with Wu, Cutroneo, Watts, Mallo, Mosley, and the Student Member voting YES, Yun Lu abstaining, and Christina Delmont-Small voting NO.

 

Ms. Cutroneo stated that she didn’t want to see the resolution fail (given the nature of the resolution’s topic), and that’s why she voted YES, despite it being the wrong resolution.

 

Chair Wu didn’t give any clarification as to why he voted YES to the wrong version of the resolution.

 

Ms. Watts, Ms. Mallo, Ms. Mosley & the Student Member were likely locked-in to vote YES to any version of the resolution, regardless of whether or not it was the final or any older version.

 

The motion could have (and should have) either been rescinded or voted down. After being voted down or withdrawn, a new motion could have been made by reading the correct, final, publicly shared resolution, and that version would have likely passed 8-0. It was stunning to see Board members vote to allow this significant error (bait-and-switch?) be allowed to stand and to see them approve the wrong version of this important resolution.

 

What occurred tonight transcends any controversies or concerns related to this specific resolution and sets an extremely dangerous precedent for the Board, regarding both procedure and trust.

 

With this precedent set, after any resolution has been collaboratively refined & publicly shared prior to a BOE meeting, a Board member, if so inclined, can choose to read whatever old or modified version of the resolution they prefer during the BOE meeting, and if there is social pressure & expectations to pass some version, ANY version of the resolution due to the nature of its topic, then that version can pass, to the complete surprise & breach of trust of both the public and other fellow Board members.

 

With this is mind, it begs the following questions questions:

 

Why should any Board members ever collaborate again to shape and refine a resolution or statement from the Board when another Board member can just decide on a whim to throw out all collaborative efforts and pick whatever old draft that they prefer to bring forward, as long as the chair ultimately allows the vote and supports the breached process?

 

Why even post resolutions publicly 3 days before Board meetings if they can be just be changed in the 11th hour, right before the public vote at the whims of a particular Board member?

 

Many current HCPSS Board of Education members have emphasized transparency and integrity as core values and had them as integral parts of their election campaigns.

 

What good is transparency if honesty & accountability are thrown out the window?

 

UPDATE – AUGUST 31, 2021: The following insights have been gained from an MPIA submitted to explore the development of this resolution and why the older, wrong version was read aloud and then ultimately adopted:

 

1) The initial draft resolution was originally authored by a student activist group and sent to the Student Member of the Board on January 8. This explains why it differed so significantly from past years’ HCPSS BLM at School Week of Action resolution . Notably, instead of being a single week of events, the following language was included “Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action will take place every month on a selected and consistent date to coincide with, and augment Black History Month”

2) The first official HCPSS BOE draft resolution (Jan. 12 version) adopted almost all of the language from the initial student activist group’s draft, including broadening the event from one week to a monthly, year-round event.

3) The next official HCPSS draft resolution (Jan. 14 version) sent to the BOE removed the language stating that the “Week of Action” would occur all year long on a monthly basis and made clear that it would be a single week event in February. Language was also added to ensure that resources used for these lessons would be “vetted” and “in accordance with HCPSS Policy 8040 (Selection of Instructional Materials)”.

4) The final HCPSS draft resolution was sent to the Board on January 19. This was the version that was posted publicly to Board Docs and is what should have been read. Notably, this version removed a paragraph stating that “a variety of student, community, and civic organizations and/or groups will aid in facilitating and educating students and staff about selected topics as they pertain to Black Lives Matter at School.” This version also changed “vetted resources” to “HCPSS approved resources” (firming up the language) and importantly added language that “participation is not mandated”.

5) The final HCPSS draft resolution was sent at least twice to all Board members, including Antonia Watts, prior to the meeting on January 21, 2021. It was sent once by Kevin Gilbert on Jan. 19 and again on Jan. 20 by Trudy Grantham. It’s clear that Ms. Watts received this version because after receiving the Jan. 19 email, she and Jolene Mosley started to discuss with Kathy Hanks about the prospect of the resolution being read aloud during the meeting. They made sure that Ms. Watts would be the one to read the resolution aloud.

Despite all of the above behind-the-scenes communications described above that had taken place, Antonia Watts proceeded to read the wrong version of the resolution (the Jan. 14 version) during the public meeting on January 21.  When challenged about this by her colleagues, Ms. Watts claimed “I read the version in the packet….that all the Board last saw. This is the one we were all delivered.”

 

The evidence above clearly shows this to be false, and that Ms. Watts should have known at the time that she had read the wrong version of the resolution.

 

When told that the draft that she’d read wasn’t the final version, and that the final version posted publicly to BoardDocs differed significantly from what she had read, Ms. Watts seemed surprised and said:

“So that’s a good question. How do we go about changing things…The last version that was sent to all the Board that we all got to comment on was the one that I just read….and then if there are updates, it doesn’t seem like we’re doing those updates in our public session…..and there are changes to be made, if you want to offer an amendment….sure….”

 

From the emails & attachments presented in this MPIA release, it is clear that Ms. Watts was fully aware of the final version that should have been read and also was aware of the changes that had been made to it behind the scenes, through back & forth between Board members and staff between Jan 12 and Jan 19.

 

This situation is likely “water under the bridge” now for the current Board, but at least the public now has a full understanding of the situation and just how much of a failure of process it was.  We as a community must move on with the hope that trust between Board members can be restored over time.

 

Hopefully the publication of the truth behind this unfortunate situation will encourage all current and future Board members to make sure that nothing like this happens again.

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