By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Two weeks prior to students at DJUSD going back to a two-day per week in-class schedule as part of a hybrid model, the school board decided to hold a special meeting on Sunday evening to discuss going to a five-day per week in-person model instead.
There are good reasons to do this of course, and the district was under pressure from some parent groups to be more aggressive in their return to campus—but the process here leaves a lot to be desired.
According to the agenda: “A special meeting shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body concerning any item that has been described in the notice for the meeting before or during consideration of that item.”
The item was “legally posted” on March 27, which is in compliance with Brown Act regulations on special meetings. The public comment phone line opened at noon on March 28—the day of the meeting.
During the meeting, Board President Joe DiNunzio announced that they had received 65 public comments. If they listened to it all, it would take about two hours.
Joe DiNunzio asked if there was any objection to keeping that policy—there was none. They then played the first 20 minutes of public comment and DiNunzio encouraged his colleagues to listen to the remainder at another point in time—after they had already made their decision.
Think about that—a momentous decision, made at the last minute, the board had 65 comments from the public on an issue that is hugely controversial and important, and they decided to truncate that process.
All told, the board meeting went about two to two and a half hours. They easily could have listened to the full comments and still been out by 10:30.
They have the legal right to do this, but here they are facing a recall because their policy for re-opening did not go nearly far enough—at least for some groups of parents. Apparently on Friday they consulted with DTA.
But this was announced on Saturday at the end of spring break. The agenda was posted on Saturday. On Sunday they took 65 public comments suggesting that the public, even with this tremendously truncated time period, was engaged on this issue, and they completely short-circuited any sort of public discussion.
The city council has been criticized by many in the community for having bad public policy. And yet, when they have faced similar situations, the city council has listened to the full array of public comments. On several of the big issues—like DISC and University Commons,the city council decided based on the volume of public comment to listen to the public comments at one meeting and then deliberate at the next meeting to make a decision. That allowed everyone’s voice to be heard.
The school board did need to make the decision relatively quickly, but they actually had time to listen to the public comment and could still have left at a reasonable hour. Or they could have listened to public comment and met again on Monday to make a decision.
Right now this looks like they got pressure from parent groups, they posted a revised plan over the weekend, again during spring break, and made up their minds that they were going to ram these changes through.
How much thought has been given to this? It’s not clear. The district apparently did consult with the teachers on Friday. But the community only found out about this over the weekend. It seems like you want to get full community buy-in, since they short-circuited their normal engagement.
The irony here is that I am probably in favor of a five-day model—if they can do it safely. I do worry that, while COVID cases are dropping right now, in parts of the country there has been a new surge. Each time the communities have reopened, people have dropped their guard and COVID has returned even worse than before. The third wave frankly dwarfed the first two.
The vaccination penetration in our community is reasonably good. Over one-third of the public in Davis has received at least their first dose. And that will help to mitigate a surge, but we may once again be rushing in.
Nevertheless, I probably support the five-day model, but what I don’t support is this blatant short-circuiting of a reasonable public process. People complain about the city—imagine if the city council put a highly controversial item on for a special meeting one day before and cut off public comment after 20 minutes?
Mace 391 is probably the closest example—sudden change to a policy and put on consent, but even that did not have public comment cut off, and the city council realized their mistake pretty quickly. And Mace 391 was never approved, partly as a result.
The district will likely get away with it because they acceded to the demands of the vocal parents. But the public process here needs to be addressed somehow.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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