BY SCOTT B. JOHNSON
First Grade Teacher
Mountain Elementary School
Most community members would agree that the School Board worked proactively with the Los Alamos Public Schools’ administrators responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of their commitments to the community, and child care providers in particular, was to give a four-week notice to reopen. It was the kind of leadership that has come to be expected by the community.
On Thursday, August 27, 2020 the School Board had a work session where that leadership was disappointing. From the onset of the reopening discussion there was not just a rush to reopen, but also a rush to vote.
First there was a motion to reopen on September 8th. It was pointed out that a commitment to the community had been made to give a four-week notice and the motion was not passed. Leadership.
The motion that did pass will reopen elementary schools on September 21st, which falls short of the four weeks notice agreement, and no board member seemed to notice. Where is the leadership; any Member can speak up.
The vote also seemed rushed because a new Member is joining the Board. Why wouldn’t the Board wait just seven business days until the next board meeting on September 8th so that the new Member could vote? All Members who are going to lead during these reopening times should have a vote to stand behind. Where is the leadership; any Member can speak up.
Another reason it seemed like a rushed vote was because it was acknowledged that students should have been surveyed. There would have been time to survey students and give them a voice by delaying a vote seven business days. Instead, a voice was given to a Member who was recusing herself, even after the Chair acknowledged that she should not have been called on. Recusal means being removed from participation, not just voting. Where is the leadership; any Member can speak up.
There were several references to transparency. I assume that referred to the promises the Board made to the community about reopening. As I watched the meeting on August 27th, I was thinking of the word transparency every time a Member looked at their phone. Were there texts that should be shared as part of the public comment? Does the Board have rules or policies about emails or texts that they receive or send during public meetings? If so, what are they and how are they enforced? If not, now is the time to implement them. Where is the leadership; any member can speak up.
And then there is the irony of voting to reopen schools in a virtual meeting.
We are living in a unique, uncertain time. I can imagine that seven months ago one or two Members would have interrupted as soon as a recused Member started talking. I can imagine that seven months ago if a new Member was joining, another Member may have suggested waiting seven business days so the new Member can vote on a lasting issue. I can imagine that seven months ago a Member would have pointed out that the announced reopening is less than four weeks away. I can imagine that seven months ago after agreeing that the students should be surveyed, a Member would have asked if the survey could be sent the next day. I can imagine that seven months ago it would have seemed ridiculous to Members to vote in favor of reopening schools that have been closed since March in a virtual meeting. But this isn’t seven months ago anymore. It’s understandable why people don’t behave exactly as they may have before the pandemic. That’s why I ask the School Board Members to reflect on these observations, answer my questions about texts and emails during meetings, and slow down. The vote to reopen elementary schools did not have to happen in such a rushed manner.
The community deserves strong leadership now more than ever. I hope each Member knows that “what’s popular is not always right, and what’s right is not always popular”.