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School Board Updates: Transparency and Process: Behind the School Board’s Latest Vote

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“We have spoken, you have not listened. This is troubling. We’re concerned there has been no transparency from the board,” president of the The Ann Arbor Education Association Fred Klien said . “We ask for transparency, and you continue to rush the process through holding previously unscheduled board meetings. It appears that there is a hidden timeline that the board is not communicating with the public. We have not seen any process. Again, we demand that you resend the previous motions and provide the answers to our concerns and questions, all while seeking community input if we’re continuing down this road, as Nelson Mandela taught us, ‘It’s never too late to do the right thing.” 

On Aug. 30, 2023, the “Voluntary settlement and resignation agreement” the board passed to remove superintendent Jeanice Swift. After the closed meeting with their attorney the board meeting met at a 3-3 vote, pushing back the decision to the next meeting, Sept. 13, 2023. 

“I’m hoping that moving forward, we can work at mending the relationships that have been impacted over these past few weeks,” vice president Krystle DuPree said.

Trustee Jeff  Gaynor was not present for the meeting due to personal reasons, which caused the board to make the decision of when to vote on the motion. 

“This is probably one of the most important decisions this board can make,” Trustee Susan Ward Schmidt said. “I believe every board member needs to be present.” 

The original motion to pause voting and resume at the next meeting, tied at a 3-3 vote, forcing the board to make a decision, which ultimately was pushed back anyway. 

How did we get here?

The Skyline High School parking lot looked like a normal school day one week before school started on Aug. 23, 2023. The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education moved their regularly scheduled board meeting to a different location to accommodate what was going to be a larger than normal audience which consisted of administrators, teachers, community members, educators, and parents.

At the front of the auditorium were different educational groups, including The Ann Arbor Education Association, Ann Arbor Administrators Association, Ann Arbor Educations Association Office Professionals, The Ann Arbor Education Association Paraeducators, Association of School and Community Service Administrators, and American federation of state county municipal employees. The members were dressed in black to show solidarity, with signs that said “Due Process,” “Transparency,” and “#Respecttheprocess.” 

AAEA president Fred Klien was there to speak.

 “Our concerns are about the recent actions that the board took on the seventh,” Klein said. “Our concern is that it lacked any kind of process and transparency.” 

The crowd was in response to the previous board meeting held on Aug. 7, 2023 where the board voted on two potential paths to part ways with Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice K. Swift following both motions were approved by the board in 4-3 votes. 

The first option was to send Swift a without cause “contractually-required pre-termination notice,” MLive said. The letter will create a two-week time period where the Board cannot take any action to remove Swift. The letter also gives Swift five days to decide whether she wants a hearing with the Board before any decision is made on her job status. 

The other option approved allows AAPS’ attorney to have other discussions on the superintendent’s employment with Swift for 30 days. 

 

The meeting prior

On Aug. 7, the BOE held a special (non-scheduled) meeting at their Domino’s Farm location. The meeting was posted, and then taken down, and later posted again.

There were 14 total speakers during public commentary, all consisting of parents of special education students as well as former Board of Education trustees. The meeting was in response to a Aug. 5, letter signed by 97 AAPS parents asking for a “change of leadership” to move the district forward. 

 

The lawsuit about the matter

 

 On July 26, Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) parent Jamie-Nelson Molnar filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that AAPS bus aide Roshanda Jefferson physically and verbally assaulted her seven year old autistic son in 2021. Bus surveillance footage was not reviewed for five weeks after the incident.

“We take these kinds of situations very seriously,” Swift said on Aug. 7. “We absolutely understand and share the concerns of the reporting of this incident that we hear from our parents and our staff. It is concerning for all of us in this Ann Arbor Public Schools community.”  

Jefferson was convicted of fourth-degree assault on June 28, 2023. 

“It is also important to clarify that the details at this point in time, details such as the timeline for the school or district response and other informational details will be sorted through in a process of discovery following the rules of procedure of evidence in legal proceedings and they will be verified and confirmed,” Swift said.

Due to the ongoing investigation, Swift could not say more about the lawsuit.

After commentary at the Aug. 7 meeting, Swift spoke.

“I appreciate everyone who has come to speak tonight and those who have spoken remotely,” Swift said. “It is a big deal when members of our community reach out and speak to us, and we never take that for granted.” 

Although both of the motions were approved by a four to three vote, there were disagreements throughout the meeting. 

“[The motion] will be addressing the concerns that people are bringing forward, but also doing it in a way that makes sure that when we need a new superintendent, it doesn’t look like they’re entering into a hostile space,” board member Krystle DePree said.  

DePree was one of the four votes to remove Swift at the meeting. 

“But talk about your responsible managing and supervising your staff,” trustee Susan Baskett said. “We may fire you [Swift] in two weeks, we may not, but continue the work and do your best. I do not understand the rush in this situation. We have the option again of at least getting through a semester if not the school year. There is a way to do this properly. This is not properly. This is not with respect. This is so irresponsible.” 

Trustee Gaynor, President Mohammad, Trustee Querijero, and Trustee Townsend Gides voting yes, and Trustee Baskett, Vice President DuPree, and Secretary Schmidt voting no. 

At the end of the three hour meeting, Dr. Swift closed the meeting. 

  “I am dedicated to move from this evening to a strong transition,” Swift said. “This is what we owe our team, our students, and our families. I want to believe that that’s the case for the trustees, and I want to believe that we will in good faith work together to ensure a strong transition.” 

 

Returning to the meeting on Aug. 23

The meeting was structured as normal: call to order, public commentary, then the agenda. With the amount of sign-ups being 64 for public commentary, the time for each speaker was shortened to one minute. Special committees had longer allotted times to speak. Combining their time in a joint statement were: The Ann Arbor Education Association, Ann Arbor Administrators Association, Ann Arbor Educations Association Office Professionals, The Ann Arbor Education Association Paraeducators, Association of School and Community Service Administrators, and American federation of state county municipal employees.

“We have concerns because as unions and labor groups we believe in due process, we believe in Just Cause, and we believe in transparency,” Klein said. “That’s been lacking behind this board’s decision.” 

The group wrote a letter on behalf of their employees of AAPS to the school board, explaining their need for “transparency.” Additionally, besides from the media, they also went to the school board themselves. 

“We called all of them after we heard the board meeting and talked to them one on one and got no rationale on why this happened.” Klein said.

After public commentary, the board meeting went on with the scheduled agenda, until the end. After publishing their reasons for voting the way they did online, the school board trustees explained their vote. 

“I learned that when she [Swift] took the reins we were in a financial crisis,” said Schmidt when explaining her experience with Swift while being a teacher.  “There was a woman who talked about being in a meeting with her and how they were making cuts and how her approach wasn’t to dismantle and cut programs, but to set up a plan to enhance our offerings and bring families back to our district.”

Different members of the board continued to share the reasoning behind their vote, and thanked the community. 

    “I know this is a tough time for all of us,” Mohammad said to the board at the end of the meeting. “I am here focused on justice, accountability, and transparency for all students, families and teachers, and I will continue to be their voices, especially those underserved and underrepresented.”

 

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Anna Esper, Editor-In-Chief
Anna is currently in 12th  grade and has been part of the Huron Emery for three years. She is one of the Print Co-Editor-In-Chiefs. Anna is part of Huron’s Student Council and plays travel and Huron softball. In her free time, she likes to listen to music. Anna’s favorite movie is “Little Women,” and her favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chip.   
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