School Board Debates Resolution on Parent Input

By Ruthann Carr

The resolution proposed by Andrew Pullen (Columbia) affirming the School Board’s desire for parent input will come up again at the Dec.  8 meeting.

Pullen said he and Superintendent Peter Gretz wrote the resolution and based it on one Culpeper County drafted.

On Nov. 3, Pullen posted his proposed resolution on his Pullen for Fluvanna County School Board Facebook page.

He submitted it as an action item to be voted on at the Wednesday (Nov. 10) meeting; however, Chair Perrie Johnson made the motion to move it to unfinished business for a first reading.

The Board agreed 3-2 with Johnson, Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) and James Kelley (Palmyra) voting yes; Pullen and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) voting no.

The Board discussed the resolution, that Pullen said was prompted by a Sept. 29 letter to President Biden from the National School Board Association.

According to a Sept. 30 Washington Post article, in the letter, the NSBA said threats and acts of violence have become more prevalent both inside and outside of (school board) meetings, coming by mail, social media and around personal properties.

The organization called for a collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate the threats…stating, “These threats and acts of violence are affecting our nation’s democracy at the very foundational levels.”

Rittenhouse said, “I would support this (resolution) with the things going on across the nation ostracizing parents from education.”

Johnson said she thought the resolution wasn’t necessary.

“While I don’t understand the need for this resolution as it has no practical application or outcome that I can identify, I don’t object to any of its provisions except this short passage: ‘Now therefore be it resolved that the Fluvanna County School Board reject the efforts of the NSBA and DOJ to criminalize dissent and protected speech within our community.’ she said. “The NSBA letter does not attempt to criminalize peaceful dissent and protected speech; those terms are never used. Another term that is never used in the letter is parent. Never. It is not an attack on parents and parental input.”

Then Johnson quoted from the NSBA letter.

 “The National School Boards Association (NSBA) respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation. Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues and that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech. However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.” 

Johnson talked about a Brevard County, Florida school board member, Jenifer Jenkins, who wrote a letter about the threats and intimidation she experienced.

Johnson said she was glad she was in rural Virginia.

“Fortunately, I live in Fluvanna,” she said. “I have not experienced any of the worst of Ms. Jenkins problems.  I have been exposed to many brutal comments, not just publicly, but imagine some of the calls and emails I get when the interaction isn’t face-to-face and people feel emboldened to express their contempt even more viciously. I have parked in the back of the building before school board meetings.  I have been escorted to my car. I have wondered if any of my critics who send the most vile messages will cause me physical harm.”

Stewart agreed the year has been difficult but said the Board has done many things to encourage parental involvement: extended public comments, live-streamed and recorded every meeting.

“We’ve worked very hard to be present and listen to community,” Stewart said. “We have had a great deal of openness. I may agree with many things in this resolution, but I don’t see any reason to have it.”

Kelley said, “The best thing we can do is to continue to encourage parents to voice their opinion.”

The Board stopped the meeting at 7 p.m. to have a hearing on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. No one spoke, so the regular meeting resumed.

Executive Director for Human Resources, Operations, and Student Services Don Stribling said since the beginning of the school year there have been 184 positive COVID-19 cases.

At the time of the meeting there were 11 active cases. Students and staff asked to quarantine because of exposure can return to school after seven days and a negative COVID-19 test.

Stribling said the number of cases is going down and is a bit lower than surrounding school districts.

Gretz said the district is making available COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5-12 by allowing the health department to have a clinic at Carysbrook.

“It’s not our position to support or discourage vaccinations,” he said. “Our position is to support the initiative.”

Gretz asked the Board to allow him to get bids from outside contractors to do a compensation study.

Pullen asked if it would be better to have the study done in-house and save the money.

Kelley said he was committed to finding out how Fluvanna compares to surrounding counties.

Gretz said he saw value in having a third party do the study.

In discussing the budgets, Executive Director for Budget and Finance Brenda Gilliam said they are still trying to study the market and see when the best time would be to lock down a gas price.

The Board discussed Johnson’s proposal to have a staff liaison at the table during public meetings.

Johnson said she’d particularly like to have a staff person for input on budget negotiations.

“I’d like to have them have a seat at the board to ask questions and help us make decisions on all kinds of matters,” she said, adding they could use the term representative for the person.

Pullen said having a staff representative at the table is just “skirting” the issue of collective bargaining.

Kelley asked wasn’t the superintendent technically the staff representative to the Board.

They came to no decision.

Pullen asked about the hunter safety course the Board voted to offer a couple years ago.

Stribling said it was all ready to go when the pandemic hit.

Stribling said he would speak to the Athletic Director Scott Morris to see how soon they can start one. It would be offered after school or on the weekend.

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