The Prince George’s County school board met virtually for an emergency session Thursday — the first since the board chair controversially canceled a scheduled meeting two weeks ago — to review the school system’s reopening plan set for April.
Before public schools CEO Monica Goldson summarized the plan released last week, board member Joshua Thomas requested that additional policy items go on the agenda, such as community schools, student attendance and an update from a work group assembled to address the school-to-prison pipeline.
“I did request for these items along with four other board members. Unfortunately, that was not listed on the agenda by the chair,” said Thomas, who decided to solely focus on the reopening plan.
Disagreements amid the school board became public when Chair Juanita Miller, appointed last month by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, canceled a Feb. 11 meeting over concerns of ethical and financial discrepancies among the body.
Miller wrote a letter on Feb. 8 outlining concerns about reorganizing administrative staff and a 7-5 board decision to hire a lobbyist for $10,000 per month. Miller abstained and the student member cannot vote on contractual and financial matters.
Miller sent the letter to County Council Chair Calvin Hawkins II, who forwarded the complaint to the Maryland Department of Education.
The state agency is also reviewing a letter from seven of the elected Prince George’s board members that Miller’s directive to cancel the meeting violated the 48-hour public hour notice requirement.
Parents, students and community members expressed displeasure Thursday with the board’s public feud, especially Miller’s decision.
“Madam chair, your decision to suspend the Feb. 11 board meeting because of a contract dispute disappoints and irritates me to no end,” said Gerrod Tyler, PTSA president of Maya Angelou French Immersion School in Temple Hills. “While I understand the concern, making the decision to hijack our board meeting is irresponsible, incomprehensible and flat-out disrespectful to the taxpaying citizens of our county.”
As for the reopening plan, high school senior Emerson Tiwang said it doesn’t provide sufficient mental health support for students.
“You can’t expect our students to aspire and achieve academic excellence when we think about reopening if we have not … provide[d] means for them to take care of themselves,” said Tiwang, who attends Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale.
After the public-comment segment ended, the meeting lasted about another hour as the board went back and forth on legal interpretations and clarifying motions presented.
The board finally voted 7-6 for Goldson to brief the board again on March 11 about the reopening plan. Additionally, board member Shayla Adams-Stafford will represent the body on possible negotiations between the school system and labor unions interested in working on the plan.
“We are talking about an opportunity for the board to bring additional questions because we are learning about the plan along with the public,” Adams-Stafford said. “What we’re asking for is more time to read, talk, ask questions and come back to not take away from what the plan is, but possibly provide other insight and provide oversight because we may have some questions and thoughts that may not have been considered.”