Saturday, April 20, 2024

Community Voices Distrust in York County School Board Leadership at Meeting

York County School Board held a regular meeting on Feb. 26. (YouTube)

YORK COUNTY — Concerned students, parents, and community members flooded the public comment period of the York County School Board meeting on Feb. 26 to voice their distrust in the current school board leadership.

The meeting’s tone and agenda were overshadowed by the Feb. 12 work session, which saw reports of militia interaction as well as discord between board members and the school superintendent.

The community comment section regarding the operating budget foreshadowed what was to come, with Board Chair Lynda Fairman opening asking, “please make sure you use decorum, kindness, and understanding that different people have different opinions.”

Public comment regarding the operating budget included complaints about the board’s lack of “fiscal responsibility,” with one addressing the board by stating, “Some of you have made the job harder for yourselves by your own bad behavior and poor decisions. If you are so overwhelmed with the tsunami of bad feedback you’ve already gotten, then the solution is not to hire a clerk to do your work for you; it’s to stop engaging in destructive behaviors that get parents, teachers and employees all riled up and then cause us to lose faith in the competence of the board. If your stipends aren’t enough or you don’t have time to do the work then do us taxpayers a favor and step down now!”

Comments received applause from those in attendance before Fairman reiterated the importance of decorum and time while suggesting she would remove any disrupters.

Public Makes Its Voice Heard

During the mandatory public comment period, per county policy regarding public participation, Fairman extended the 30-minute public comment period to one hour due to the number of community members who signed up to address the board.

Board member James Richardson, who recognized the increased number of speakers signed up to comment, asked for clarification from the board regarding the policy that states community members be given an opportunity to speak at the end of the board’s meeting agenda.

Mark Shafer, upon hearing the audible dissatisfaction from the crowd, commented “when we took our oath of office, we were sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and that includes the First Amendment, which has free speech, and the Fourth Amendment, which provides redress of grievances to the government…” before being cut off by Fairman, who said they needed to move the meeting along.

Shafer asked for a motion to allow all commenters with a filed comment card to speak, regardless of the one-hour time constraint allotted by county policy. Richardson seconded the motion to hear all 51 commenters during the public period. Board members Richardson, Shafer and Kimberly Goodwin voted to approve the motion with Fairman being the only one opposed. Zoran Pajevic was absent due to a business commitment.

The public comment period, which lasted hours, centered around the citizens’ lack of trust in the newly elected board members as well as the concern regarding the rising tension between Superintendent Victor Shandor and the school board that came to light during the contentious Feb 12 work session.

One parent of three current York County students wanted to voice concerns regarding the “hostile environment that is being cultivated by the new school board members across our division, which I believe is affecting staff at all levels, starting directly with our superintendent and filtering down through the school board office, administrators, teachers and other support staff. I know for a fact that there are many teachers who are too afraid to speak tonight due to retaliation.”

Melissa Madrigal (YouTube)

“The [York County School] strategic plan was formulated based on data from a survey of stakeholders and the committee determined [it] should focus on four priorities. As I have watched the meetings since January I have wondered if the new board members are aware of these new four priorities since their actions don’t seem to indicate they are,” stated Grafton High School math teacher, Melissa Madrigal who went on to explain those priorities within that include collective commitment, supportive culture, highly effective talent and future ready graduates.

Speaking in support of the board, one citizen from Seaford thanked board members for “doing what most people in York County would never do, run for office. You are commendable individuals undeserving of the hatred encountered by the public and others.”

Board Members Address Community

Board members, by district, were allotted time to address the community. Pajevic, district two representative, was not in attendance.

Shafer, of District 1, noted the Feb. 12 meeting had an unprecedented 3,200 views and thanked those watching and being engaged while also noting he “wished it were for the right reasons, and the right things were going on and people were excited about what was going on with the students and staff of York County”.

Goodwin, District 3 representative, read the following statement, “I realized that over the last several weeks there has been a lot of turmoil and upending within some members of the community over past events, questioned asked and decisions made. Unfortunately, there also has been a lot of hyperbole and just some outright incorrect information shared.”

“I am not part of a militia group nor did I send a militia group to an elementary school,” continued Goodwin, “I do not condone slavery or even anything that would resemble it. I do not have an agenda to fire our superintendent. I do not think there is mass indoctrination happening in our school division. And as far as me being ‘far-right,’ I am as far right as the constitution, as that is the oath I took to uphold.”

In the interest of time, Richardson declined to make a statement and instead thanked the community for their comments.

Lynda Fairman (YCSD)

District 5 representative Fairman concluded the board commentary by stating, “There has been some inaccurate and false reports in the media. Let me set the record straight, I neither belong to nor support a militia group. Statements saying I do are malicious lies. I am dismayed and disappointed that two of my colleagues on this board chose to spread and perpetuate those lies.”

“What is this teaching our students?” asked Fairman.

“If York County citizens were truly satisfied with the way our schools were being handled the outcome of the elections would have been very different. The majority spoke that they were against the status quo and wanted change.” Fairman continued, “It is time for us to focus on the real business of the school board – making sure our budget supports student achievement. We need to be focused on academics.”

Watch the meeting in its entirety here. The next planned York County School Board meeting is on March 11 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be streamed on YouTube and YCSD-TV.

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