Monday, July 15, 2024

York County School Board Retreat Canceled, New Date TBA

York County School Board (YouTube)

YORKTOWN — A planned York County School Board retreat was canceled with a new date pending Tuesday after questions were raised Monday night at a school board work session regarding the retreat agenda.

The new status was confirmed on the school board website on May 7.

Monday, board member James Richardson once again raised concerns about an ongoing lack of communication between board members and board chair Lynda Fairman, and specifically cited a lack of disclosure regarding the agenda for the retreat.

“The board has had very little communication about this retreat on May 10. We originally had a date for a retreat, which was I believe (was) Feb. 23, but you and the vice chair canceled … close to that, even after that date was agreed upon during a meeting,” Richardson said.

James Richardson, York County School Board Member. (YouTube)

The new date of May 10 had been selected at the March 25 meeting of the school board.

Richardson continued that on March 25, a rough draft of the agenda for the board retreat was sent out on potential topics for training.

“On that same day, I sent an email to you, Ms. Fairman, asking who would be providing the training or facilitating that day and I heard nothing,” Richardson added.

A month later, Richardson received an email from Vice Chair Kim Goodwin discussing the retreat. Richardson asked again about who would be facilitating the retreat.

“I was advised by Ms. Goodwin that our presenter was an attorney with School Board Member Alliance (SBMA),” Richardson shared.

At the April 22 meeting of the board, it reversed a previous decision to use both the School Board Member Alliance (SBMA) and the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) for policy writing services, choosing to go with VSBA after finding an exclusionary clause in the contract from the SBMA.

Richardson was further advised by the Board Attorney, Melanie Berry, that Fairman would be handling acquiring the speaker for the afternoon training session. On May 3, he said he was informed of the speakers, which included SBMA Founder Sherri Story and Michael Sylvester of the Founding Freedoms Law Center, an organization that says on its website was founded as “a direct response to the recent onslaught of anti-family, anti-freedom, and anti-faith initiatives in Virginia through numerous unjust laws that went into effect the same day.”

York County School Board Chair Lynda Fairman. (YouTube)

Richardson also questioned the cost of the training, noting that Berry could have provided the training at no cost to the district. “Mr. Sylvester has five years of experience in law, but no experience in educational law, according to his bio,” Richardson added.

Richardson also noted using SBMA presenters was contrary to the board’s April 22 decision to use VSBA.

“We are violating policy by having SBMA provide the training. Policy BHB states that appropriate school board training would be workshops, conferences, conventions, and I would consider a retreat a workshop, conducted by the Virginia or National School Board Association or Division sponsored training,” Richardson said.

Richardson ultimately said that he would not attend the May 10 retreat.

“I will not be attending the May 10 retreat as I do not want to violate policy. In addition, I will not be affiliated with a group that makes insensitive comments on social media and comments in public that could be construed as racist. They are not proven experts in their field, they work out of a private residence, and even when they presented at our board meeting on policy services, they changed their website a night or so before to reflect that they are now nonpartisan,” Richardson said.

Richardson also raised concerns that not posting the meeting with adequate time could place the division “in jeopardy of violating FOIA and the open meeting requirements.”

“Under FOIA, as soon as practical board meetings need to be advertised by Virginia code. You knew back in March that we were going to have a meeting on May 10 and you even had a rough draft of the topics, but never had the meeting advertised. On April 25, we had a date, time, and location of the meeting, yet you did not have it advertised or posted until April 29,” Richardson said.

Concerns about violating open meeting requirements also led board member Mark Shafer to say he also would not attend, explaining, “I can’t go to a meeting that is in violation of FOIA.”

York County School Board Member Mark Shafer. (YouTube)

Shafer also questioned the quality of the training from SBMA and Story, as well as several of her social media comments and the viewpoints of the SBMA organization.

“Dr. Shandor said earlier that all professional development has to be high quality. I’m thinking that Ms. Story has served one term on a Suffolk school board and the entire time she made some very racially insensitive, at best, probably racist comments, at worst. What I’m saying is, that she’s not high quality and she should not be teaching us,” Shafer said.

Board member Zoran Pajevic, who has attended training from both SBMA and VSBA, recommended that SBMA’s training was the better option from a detail-oriented perspective.

Fairman agreed with Pajevic.

“The trainings that I have attended, people who have gone to other trainings, and then compared them to SBMA, they said the SBMA trainings were far superior, focused completely on what the law was and what the law required, as opposed to other agendas thrown in, that were done by other organizations,” Fairman said.

York County School Board Vice Chair Kim Goodwin. (YouTube)

Fairman said Monday she hoped that the board would come and take the opportunity to listen to the presentations and urged citizens to attend, as well.

According to the agenda for the retreat, Standards of Quality 5 and 7 were up for discussion, which included quality of classroom instruction and educational leadership and school board policies.

Goodwin added that the board retreat is where the board can craft the norms and protocols, which it has not done since becoming an official board in January.

“I just think it’s a sad time for the York County School Division, and I’m sorry that we have these kinds of problems, but I don’t think your idea of this kind of retreat will draw anyone together,” Shafer said.

The next school board meeting is planned for May 20. To view the session in full, visit the York County School Division YouTube page.

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