Saratoga Board of Ed Meeting Notes
December 7, 2021
Notes by Alexis Katz
Motion to approve minutes, approved and accept the agenda
Christine Page – asking on behalf of many parents to request a swimming pool for our school community. Argues the benefits of having a swimming pool for all students, in addition to YMCA and Skidmore pools, and especially for school swim teams.
Jeremiah Wood – follow up on previous speaker’s request for a pool, adding that it’s a “matter of equity and inclusion” (although did not seem to provide details to support that particular claim)
Andrew Bote (?) – “it’s down to the Scotsman to talk about money” – made points about cost of using other facilities’ pools and that our own pool could generate revenue for the district
7:15 Rebecca Lynch – thanks district for hosting recent vaccine clinics and also for on-going efforts supporting inclusion and equity. With this in mind, she asks that we consider the ways the December holidays are celebrated in our school communities. As a Jewish woman who grew up in Saratoga herself, she points out the challenges of growing up in a community that posits xmas as the “one true holiday”. Has concerns for the lack of inclusion of diversity for her children and other children who do not celebrate the Christian holidays. Points out that a recent Facebook post highlighting Lake Ave illustrating how it is celebrating and teaching diversity and inclusion fell short of accuracy in its representation of Hanukkah. We should “acknowledge and address shortcomings”. Acknowledging that efforts are often well intentioned, but asks that BOE consider how to improve efforts of school community in teaching about and emphasizing holidays from all communities
Sandy Lupo – agrees w speakers about pool. Also with Rebecca. Has presented to the BOE several times “without answers.” Wants to know how employees, custodial staff, aides, are vetted for employment. Also wants to know if the district regularly does drug testing of employees of the district and how does that work.
Carmela Frias – “since the BOE clearly wants to see dollar signs and likes numbers I’ll start with numbers” – says she is using information using WHO’s website – over 2 million adverse reactions worldwide (does not specify what she’s talking about), including spontaneous abortion, breast disorders, including adverse effects among children. Wants to know why facts from a trusted organization are not being attended to. “Begs” BOE to look at facts and not be complicit.
Kris Dubuque – not wearing a mask but when challenged said he had been given an exemption. The Board confers and agrees. Patton challenges his home address, mentioning that presenter has home address in Ballston Spa, which presenter defends saying he has two residences including a Saratoga address on Broadway (the address he gives is 509 Broadway, later determined to be the address for Temple Sinai, and clearly not a residence). He then gives “constructive criticism” to BOE/Patton that they should be welcoming to the public and asking that in future they bring up questions like that via email rather than in a public forum. Wants to talk about Diversity equity and inclusion as presented by previous presenter (Rebecca), but does not make clear point about this issue, other than acknowledging the issue Rebecca brought up and explaining that he and his wife have had good experiences sharing aspects of their Jewish faith with their school community (not clear where that is, but he is clearly not referring to Saratoga). Says his son could not participate in his bar mitzvah because he could not provide proof of vaccination to the synagogue and offers this as words of caution to the school district that they will lose students if they are not more cautious or inclusive of all students.
7:26 End of public comment
Reports and Recommendations
Board Committee reports
Motion to send therapy dog policy 5061 back to committee – passes
Tony K reporting on panel discussion he attended on chronic absenteeism that he felt was quite informative
Student Rep Report – Reports on various activities at different schools, including HSA/PTA efforts/activities, including most elementary schools and Maple Ave, some relating to PBIS programming, and excitement over mascot of Blue Streak representation. At high school music programs and winter sports up and running and librarian chosen for award of recognition
Admin Reports and presentations
Patton thanking Dr Davis for her tour this evening of Greenfield Elementary, incl what can be expected from phase two of Legacy Project. We lost two members of our school community, including a high school senior and Kathy Rhumel, kindergarten teacher at Greenfield. Moment of silence for them
Reporting on program for COVID 19 testing, reflecting on learning from South Glens Falls successful testing program. Challenge in getting enough of the Binex tests because of supply problems, but he plans to learn more in webinar tomorrow with goal of providing universal testing of children who are not symptomatic so their instruction is not interrupted as much. Notes an increase in positivity rate in the county/community. Currently have 105 students out on quarantine at the moment. All our efforts are to minimize disruption in instruction and to provide support to families who have tested positive. Thanks Dr Cirenza, school district physician. District has continued to host vaccine clinics and every time they put out link for registration so far they keep filling up so district plans to keep offering clinics, including some in January and as long as we continue to see interest and demand from parents.
Congratulating school music programs for performances they are finally able to get up on stage and perform in front of live audience.
Next Monday, working closely with SSTA, liaison meeting will occur and can include up to four BOE members (does not discuss what this is regarding) and confirms which BOE members plan to attend.
Transportation Dept Report
Annual report on operations from Transportation dept, with Director Jeff Wainwright and Kim Ross, assist director. Explains structure of in-office employees of the department. Currently transporting 5206 (last year was only 3405) students. They run 303 routes on a daily basis. Acknowledging school bus driver shortage – the national attention to this issue has been helpful in receiving employment applications. Pointing out community involvement, such as some drivers and buses in attendance at Patriots Day parade in September. Also at big truck day. Points out accomplishments of staff, including no accidents in years of employment. Addresses snow removal from storm last December and shows photos of snow removal system they were able to purchase bc of the problems with that storm. Will help them to remove large amounts of snow as buses drive through it. This massive device looks cool and I would like to see it in action. Defines future goals of dept. including web based routing system and school bus replacement plan. Explains new safety initiatives, including new illuminated stop arms/signs and other lighting on school buses that make them more visible and have been shown to improve student safety.
Comments from four BOE members praising the department for various aspects of their presentation and accomplishments, including John B noting the importance of the department as they are the first and last members of the district students see each day, “complains” that the BOE has not been given opportunity to tour the facilities as previously was promised.
Modifications to the Consent Agenda
Two modifications: notes page numbers of items being pulled from tonight’s agenda
Board of Education Legislative Advocacy Resolution for 2021-2022
Various proposed new policies, changes to policies and administrative regulations, then approval of field trips
Motion to approve consent agenda – passes
Second public comment
Kris Debuque again – given shortages of bus drivers, he recommends someone who can support district in hiring. Reminds that public is also here to support the BOE and that is why he is offering this advice. Mentions mask mandate, reviewing timing of recommendation. Talks about Section 2.60 legislation providing emergency justification for wearing of masks and complains that it stepped around due process of public comment when it expired and was renewed in the end of November. Describes efforts of another community to get around this legislation and suggests we use science based data to support decisions.
Michele King – wants to comment on “high school tardy policy” bc students are getting sent to attendance office for a tardy slip when they are not technically tardy and asks that we revisit that policy esp given that there is a bottleneck due to security in the minutes right around the start of school. Asks that we allow students to walk straight to their class when they get in at that hour. Reports she is NY Informed and “I have been a huge advocate for getting rid of masks as you know bc I have been here commenting for several meetings” Talks about lack of evidence supporting masks and vaccines. Asks that the BOE listen to every point of view. “Not every kid needs a mask”
What follows for the next 25 minutes is a back and forth about whether it is legal/ proper for the board to have a closed session with the attorney for purpose of legal advice and education around the board’s role and reach with regard to district curriculum. Board members Amanda Ellithorpe, Connie Woytowich, and Erika Borman asking multiple times whether it is legal for the BOE to meet without the public present for purposes of legal advice, each time answered patiently by district attorney Jeffery Honeywell that it is legal and also standard practice for this to occur:
John B discusses focus of “Board Workshops” with the possibility of having just BOE members present. Amanda asks about client-attorney privilege. Mr Honeywell invited to comment and he comes to the mic. He says under law you are required to have a public meeting only if planning to discuss public business, so therefore a workshop that is not focused on public interest does not require public attendance. Every time you are meeting with attorney for legal advice, such as roles and responsibilities related to curriculum, you are not required to make it public. Can later be brought in as a public report. Patton comments that we are looking for clarification of roles and responsibilities. Honeywell further clarifies that the intent is not to hide anything, but that the public is not required to be present. Points out the words are confusing, such as “workshop” about the budget, for example, which the public should be able to be present for. He says the word “retreat” is a better word to describe what is meant by this particular session. Amanda asks why this does not constitute a “public matter” and Honeywell says bc you are not discussing public business, it is not SSCSD business. Amanda asks again if perhaps the concern was not communicated clearly since if they are discussing how the BOE operates and she thinks that should be public business. Honeywell says when he is being consulted it is a matter of attorney advice and again not public business. Erika asks for clarification about BOE specifically discussing curriculum, noting that there has been feedback that it is “dangerous” for members to discuss curriculum. Tony comments that we are talking about the members seeking “legal advice” when asking about role of board members, so therefore not public. Erika asks is it not “education” rather than advice and Honeywell clarifies that there is no difference and that both can be done without public attendance. Tony asks Erika did she not cite a legal definition from NYSSBA. Natalya comments that they can ask for a NYSSBA rep to help with this, but reiterates the concept that has been repeated now several times that legal advice can be obtained from attorney in private setting. Honeywell reminds members that they can always then share publicly. Connie comments in clarifying this idea, repeating that board members can seek private counsel with him and then can bring that back to the board table to have a public discussion. Erika comments that some of them were thrown off when Honeywell was brought in for counsel and that she wants to make sure they discuss related issues as a board. John states that when legal issues arise they will reach out to a lawyer and suggests that Erika and Amanda are asking for a formal commitment to a meeting, as an agenda item, once legal counsel has been obtained. Amanda and Erika are not clear about this. Honeywell responds that it’s ok for them to add as an agenda item roles regarding curriculum, although he is not familiar with the process for adding an agenda item. John explains the process for adding an agenda item, and also suggests that since it can be hard to add a meeting, can this be added as an item. Natalya points out that is would be difficult to schedule subsequent meetings or agenda items when they have not had the first meeting yet, because next steps would depend on what happens in that first meeting. John points out that Amanda is asking that they put the item on the agenda now and that Natalya is asking that a public conversation still needs to happen, but not about a law – this should be a private conversation with the attorney. At this point there is a lot of repetition in the comments going back and forth. Natalya asks why they would put the agenda item on without knowing what they are able to discuss legally, regarding curriculum. Connie summarizes that after their workshop to discuss the laws around this issue it can then be put on the agenda. John asks if anyone wants to do anything other than what is already planned. No one does.
Motion to adjourn