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Superintendent scolds majority of School Board over School Law Enforcement Advisory Group proposal

“Extremely problematic,” “inappropriate,” and “disrespectful” was how Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said School Board members handled edits of his plan to create a School Law Enforcement Advisory Group.

In a March 9 email, Hutchings scolded a majority of School Board Members — Michelle Rief, Ashley Simpson-Baird, Adbel Elnoubi, Kelly Carmichael Booz and Chris Harris — for editing his SLEP proposal. He said that such “behind the scenes” operations raised transparency issues by violating the Virginia Freedom Of Information Act.

“I believe that this approach is extremely problematic, inappropriate, disrespectful and most of all not aligned with our legal board practices,” Hutchings wrote. “SLEP is not an action item for the board and I’m not understanding why this is being presented to me this way. I believe some of the points in the document are welcome revisions; however, I hope that this will not be shared with our team tonight at the meeting.”

The 16-person SLEP advisory group will begin meeting in May or June to develop feedback recommendations for Hutchings on the future of the controversial school resource officer program within ACPS.

The group will send back their recommendations in a report in December. ACPS is now in the process of going through a solicitation process to hire a meeting facilitator.

The email was sent shortly before Hutchings and staff presented the Board with the first draft of the SLEP proposal on March 10. The edited draft circulated by the Members have some recommendations that stuck around in the final proposal, including adding a SLEP link to the ACPS website for community information.

At that March 10 Board meeting, Hutchings said: “This is our first time having a public discussion about this partnership and having a public discussion around this particular information that we’re sharing out and we’re sharing that with the board.”

The Board is allowed to discuss their positions on issues with each other outside meetings.

“I didn’t come here to uphold the status quo or be a rubber stamp,” Elnoubi said. “There’s nothing wrong with members sharing and discussing ideas outside the board room as long as as long as it’s in a one on one setting to abide by the ‘Sunshine Laws’ and that’s what we did. In this situation here when I see a proposal that continues to marginalize people of color like me, I have an obligation to speak up.”

According to the Board’s operating procedures:

The School Board transacts all business at Board meetings, and does not vote by secret or written ballot. However, nothing prohibits separately contacting the membership, or any part thereof, of the School Board for the purpose of ascertaining a member’s position with respect to the transaction of public business, whether such contact is done in person, by telephone or by electronic communication, provided the contact is done on a basis that does not constitute a meeting under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Board Member Tammy Ignacio was not pleased to receive the edited document in a Board-wide email before the March 10 meeting from Harris, who asked that Board members look at it for discussion. Ignacio said she was not privy to the edited recommendations, and that they equated to “backstabbing” from her colleagues.

“We can’t openly expect to bring data forward when we’re backstabbing our own Board and making decisions and writing memos and editing them for our own specific purpose,” Ignacio said at the March 10 meeting. “And if that is the way that this Board is planning to run, I don’t want to be a part of it. Transparency. Do not stand up here in front of our public and our children and our staff and talk about transparency when you’re going behind the backs of other Board members and creating memos and editing them. It is unacceptable. It is unprofessional.”

Booz then failed in a 4-4-1 vote to get the advisory group to report directly to the Board instead of the Superintendent.

Simpson-Baird said on March 10 that ACPS has one chance to get the issue right.

“We have one chance to get community input and go through a very thorough processthat we all know didn’t happen over the past year,” she said at the March 10 meeting. “I know that’s where a lot of our our passions come from.”

On March 14, Hutchings provided the Board with a refresher on their operating procedures, which include not talking to the media.

Hutchings’ full March 9 to the School Board is below the jump.

Hutchings  wrote:

It is unfortunate that school board members would draft this without affording the staff an opportunity to discuss this matter publicly at our school board meeting. Our staff is working with a national research organization to develop the SLEP model and the format is aligned with best research-based practices for advisory groups.

I believe that this approach is extremely problematic, inappropriate, disrespectful and most of all not aligned with our legal board practices. SLEP is not an action item for the board and I’m not understanding why this is being presented to me this way. I believe some of the points in the document are welcome revisions; however, I hope that this will not be shared with our team tonight at the meeting.

A part of our strategic plan is to work cohesively and collaboratively using data as our driver for decision making. This approach adopted unanimously by the school board in June 2020 was intended to precent situations like this. Specifically, these proposed revisions have been developed with using the data shared in the presentation. Furthermore, whom ever was involved with these recommendations did not even hear the analysis of the data from staff since we haven’t presented the information as of yet.

The school board should allow the staff to present our data and discuss with the school board publicly including any feedback, concerns or recommendations. Then, allow the staff to make necessary revisions based on the feedback from the public meeting. That’s the appropriate approach for public discussion, feedback and revisions.

Once you provide me with the school board members involved in these behind the scenes revisions which I hope is not more that 2 school board members, then I will contact them and share these same sentiments. Thank you!

-Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.

Sent from Dr. Hutchings’ iPhone

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