The White River Current received notification last Wednesday afternoon, as required by state law, that a special meeting of the Calico Rock District School Board had been called for the following evening (Thurs, 8/12) at 5:30 p.m. Special meetings are not unusual, especially in the lead-up to the beginning of a new school year when new hires are approved to fill any vacant positions or final policy decisions are made.
As no agenda was provided beforehand detailing what topics were to be discussed during the meeting, the Current contacted the District to learn what was to be discussed. As in the past, a number of hires were planned, however there was to also be discussion of the possible reimposition of a mask mandate for students and staff given the recent resurgence in the COVID-19 Delta variant. Given the somewhat contentious nature of this final issue, this reporter felt that it was necessary to be on hand so as to keep the public informed of whatever outcome may result.
The meeting was called to order by Board President Chris Brandon with all members present. Business began with the acceptance, with regrets, of a resignation submitted by Michelle Davis, who had been hired the month prior as an elementary school teacher, who apparently had decided to go a different direction.
New hires were next addressed with Abbey Humphries and Tammy Carraway both being hired as Para-Pros/Tutors. With the resignation of Ms. Davis, it was next necessary to fill that now vacant position, for which Jessica Teague was under consideration.
Upon announcement of the proposed hire of Ms. Teague, Board President Chris Brandon immediately called the Board to go into executive session requiring all non-members of the Board and visitors to leave the room to allow for private discussion. Superintendent Jerry Skidmore also remained for the session.
For those who are not aware, topics that are permitted by law to be discussed during an executive session called by any elected body are limited only to personnel and disciplinary issues. . . .primarily for reasons of confidentiality. All other issues (budget, policy, operations, expenditures, curricula, etc) are required to be discussed in open session so as to be visible to the public to ensure awareness of what their elected officials are doing on their behalf.
In the past, executive sessions called by the local School Board have occurred for the above reasons, oftentimes when there are multiple candidates for a position whose qualifications are discussed and compared behind closed doors (the recent hire of a new elementary school principal is a good example) or the Superintendent’s contract is up for renewal, or a situation has arisen requiring an employee or student be considered for some sort of disciplinary action.
The calling of an executive session for the hire of one teacher was somewhat of a deviation from past Board practice, but nothing worthy of concern or questioning at that moment. Historically in such situations a recommendation would be made by the Superintendent to hire the individual which was then voted on by the Board. . . .almost always resulting in the Board adopting the recommendation.
Following over an hour behind closed doors Brandon reconvened the meeting with all returning to the room. A vote to approve the hire of Ms. Teague was then taken with all members voting in favor of the hire.
With that out of the way, Brandon introduced the final item up for discussion, that being consideration of a COVID-19 Precautions Plan for implementation when classes resume next
week. Mr. Skidmore provided hardcopy of the plan to all Board members and proceeded to recap the primary points contained within, one of which being the imposition of a mask mandate for both the elementary and high school campuses.
The stated intent of the plan is, “to provide guidance for the Calico Rock School District regarding use of COVID-19 precautions based on the prevalence of COVID-19 within the Calico Rock School District”. The plan also states that, “the prevalence of COVID-19 and the high rate of transmission of the new Delta variant puts students at higher risk than before.” The plan was summed up by Skidmore as, “being basically the same as we did last year”.
Following Skidmore’s presentation of the plan (which can be viewed in its entirety on the District website) and recommendation that it be adopted by the Board, a motion was made to approve by Jennifer Brickell and seconded by Kelly Killian. Brandon next asked if there was any discussion. . . .a question that was met with dead silence. No discussion whatsoever.
Hearing no discussion, Brandon called for, “all those in favor”, to which Brickell, Killian and himself responded “aye”. He next called for, “those opposed”. . .to which this reporter heard no response from either of the two remaining Board members, Jay Knight and Buster Branscum. At that point Brandon declared, “motion passes”.
Wishing to get the vote count correct as far as how each member voted, this reporter asked if he could ask a question. . . .to which Brandon replied, “you can ask but I don’t know if I’ll answer or not.”
As who had made and seconded the motion to approve had been captured for the record, this reporter proceeded to ask for clarity on how the remaining members had voted. In response Brandon stated, “it don’t matter”. . . . to which this reporter replied, “I think it matters to the public. . . .I would like to know how everybody voted.” Brandon responded by saying, “Any more discussion? Meeting adjourned.”
Normally how any elected official votes on a particular issue, regardless of the topic, is captured for the record, except in cases where a vote is unanimous one way or the other. Knowing how an elected official has voted is oftentimes how they are evaluated and held accountable by those they represent when the next election cycle rolls around.
Newest Board member Buster Branscum had recently campaigned on the fact that he opposed the imposition of further mask mandates, a factor that very well may have been what got him elected. Those who voted for him have a right to know how he voted to determine whether or not he kept to his stated position.
A final point curious to this reporter is that fact that there was no discussion at all on what many would consider to be a topic worthy of talking about in open session. This fact is doubly curious when coupled with the lengthy executive session that immediately proceeded the Precautions Plan vote. If in fact the mask mandate was discussed in executive session, the Board is in violation of the state FOIA in regards to what may and may not be discussed behind closed doors.
Any citizens residing with the District wishing to voice their support or concerns on the Precautions Plan, or any other topic, are encouraged to contact members of the Board whose contact information may be found on page 8 of the WRC paper. Additionally, meetings of the School Board are always open to the public. Those desiring to make their feelings known in person, one way or the other, to the Board are encouraged to attend the next regular meeting scheduled for Monday, August 23rd at 5:30 p.m. in the elementary school library.