An additional item added last minute to the East Allen County School Board of Trustees Aug. 18 meeting agenda gave parents and board members cause for concern.
An addendum was filed to add a resolution to the agenda that would grant EACS Superintendent Marilyn Hissong emergency authority to temporarily adjust the EACS Return-to-School Plan.
If she would like to make any changes, the resolution states that she would need to consult the president or vice president of the board until a public meeting can convene. The resolution also states that “any temporary changes made by the Superintendent automatically expire as soon as the Board conducts a public meeting, regardless of whether such a meeting is a regularly scheduled meeting or an emergency meeting. The Board can then consider whether to amend the Return to School Plan for an additional period.”
Hissong explained what this would mean for the district.
“It’s been recommended that our Board of School Trustees pass a resolution to give the superintendent the temporary authority to, if COVID cases rise in a particular school attendance area, to adjust the reopening plan as necessary,” Hissong said.
Examples of specifics that she would have the power to adjust would regard masks, remote learning and anything else included in the current back-to-school plan.
“This would not be taken lightly,” Hissong said. “It would be something that we would look at, and as a Board, you would be part of that decision-making.”
Hissong also stated that other school corporations already had this nuance expressed in their plans, but it was not clear in the EACS plan.
President Todd Buckmaster asked if this resolution would give her any and all authority in these matters, and Hissong said that was not the case.
She explained that she would need to contact the president and vice president of the board and described the process from last school year.
“When we did any kind of changes, I would send it out to the whole board first and said, ‘Does anyone have any questions or comments about this? This is what we are looking at implementing,’” Hissong said. “Then we took feedback from those. We always gave the board information ahead of time.”
Boardmember Paulette Nellems asked why this resolution needed to be in place if Hissong still has to consult with the board before making any decisions. Hissong gave the hypothetical situation that if there was a large spread of COVID in one specific area and it happened quickly, they would notify parents of the spread and what mitigation strategies they would try to implement.
But if Hissong still has to go to the board to consider changes to the plan, Nellems felt this resolution was unnecessary. Hissong said there needs to be a 48-hour notice of any public meeting, and if she needed to make adjustments quickly, she would want the ability to do so.
“For example, if something were to happen Thursday night, we wouldn’t be able to have a meeting to discuss it until maybe Monday because you can’t count the weekend in there,” Hissong said. “Again, it would just be to expedite things for safety precautions. Then we would turn around and have the public meeting about it.”
While fellow board member Ron Turpin understands the intent of the resolution, he was concerned because there is no specific timeline for the board to meet after a change is made.
“This takes away the authority of the board potentially,” Turpin said. “It could be a month between board meetings. It could be several weeks between board meetings because we don’t have meetings every two weeks all of the time. So that is my concern because we don’t set a timeline in there.”
He also said that the board needs to be cognizant of the unexpected and plan for it.
The board approved the resolution with four board members voting yes, Nellems and Turpin voting no and Jenny Blackburn abstaining.
Three parents spoke in favor of mask choice. One parent approached the board afterward about how the resolution was not public knowledge before the meeting. Due to the late addition, this topic was not listed on the original and posted agenda.
Parent Lindsey Hammond approached Buckmaster and Hissong to ask why it was not listed because she said more parents would have been in attendance if it was.
Hissong explained further.
“I know you don’t know me, but I am a Woodlan grad, I am an East Allen County School grad,” Hissong said. “I’m telling you. I love this system and all of our kids. Every decision that was made last year went through this board. It went through them before we did anything, and you can ask anyone that.”
She also addressed the timing of the resolution discussion.
“The timing thing, like I said, if we have a building that I think is at a 20% threshold, the state can shut us down for two days of cleaning or even longer just because they want us to thoroughly clean,” Hissong said.
Hammond was unhappy with this response because she said she would rather have all seven board members vote on these issues instead of just a few people making decisions.
While the whole conversation was not available through the Zoom video, some of her thoughts were that they should not go by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations because “unelected individuals are telling us how to run our lives.” The other two parents who spoke were listening to the conversation as well.
Public Information Officer Tamyra Kelly was contacted via email to see if the district had a response about the concern, and she said they had no comment.
The board also:
- Heard a presentation about the yearly budget from CFO Pat McCann.
- Approved the resolutions regarding the General Obligation Bond that would help repair, renovate or improve some of the maintenance issues at the schools.