The Eugene District 4J Board of Directors met virtually on Wednesday, Dec. 1, to discuss how to include student voices in board meetings and choose representatives to the Oregon School Board Association, among a variety of topics.
Board Chair Judy Newman said they hope to vote on a plan to include student representation at the next meeting, Dec. 15 so that the proposal could start right after winter break.
Newman presented a two-part proposal for the 2021-2022 school year. The first part states that student representatives to the board, who have already been selected by the respective high schools, would be oriented to the board in January. The second part states that the board would meet with student affinity groups, which are groups of students that share common goals such as the Black Student Union, one or two times in work sessions so students can give input on issues that are important to them. The plan also says that toward the end of the school year, the board would meet with a student advisory group to expand student representation for the 2022-2023 school year.
The second part was the focus of discussion, as board member Laural O’Rourke said she was “dismayed” to hear the proposal as she thought affinity groups would be attending board meetings.
“It’s pretty much squashing the voice of affinity groups,” O’Rourke said.
Board member Maya Rabasa said that one or two meetings with affinity groups was too few and that the students should get the opportunity to participate in board meetings if they want.
However, board member Mary Walston pointed out the logistical problem of including 10 more people in board meetings when seating is already limited due to the pandemic, and board member Martina Shabram noted that board meetings are held at an inconvenient time for most students.
O’Rourke also pointed out that there were no student voices in the conversation about including student voices. “We keep on saying and inferring what they would say,” she said. “But one thing I know as a mother of teens, I’m usually wrong. At least that’s what they tell me.”
O’Rourke, Rabasa and board member Alicia Hays volunteered to rework the proposal.
The board voted on two representative positions for the Oregon School Board Association. They voted unanimously to elect incumbent Linda Hamilton, a Lane Education School District board member, to represent Lane County on OSBA’s board of directors. They also voted unanimously to elect incumbent Judy Newman, 4J board chair, to the Legislative Policy Committee.
The board also listened to a presentation on updates to clarify the language in the district’s mandatory reporting policy. If any school employee suspects that anyone they know has abused a child, or any child is being abused, they are required to report it to the Oregon Department of Human Services or law enforcement.
They also heard a proposal to authorize community benefits contracts, which would allow the board to add requirements for things like family health insurance from contractors, on the Camas Elementary School rebuild project. Both proposals will be voted on at the Dec. 15 meeting.
Board Chair Newman suggested new speaking guidelines for board members to shorten meeting times, which often last more than three hours. Newman suggested that the board members keep comments to under three minutes and consider whether their points had already been raised before bringing them up again.
However, the rules weren’t implemented at the meeting after a heated exchange between Walston and O’Rourke when Walston pointed out during Rabasa’s board comments that Rabasa had gone over time. O’Rourke called the interruption “so rude.” The rules will be discussed at the Dec. 15 meeting.
New Days Off for Teacher Workload Relief
Though it wasn’t a main topic of discussion, the board members all mentioned concerns about teacher burnout. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the board held a brief special meeting with the sole purpose of choosing new days off for students to give teachers a break and time to catch up. The board asked Interim Superintendent Cydney Vandercar to come up with dates for the rest of the school year after a two-hour discussion at Nov. 17’s meeting failed to come to a solution.
Vandercar proposed a total of three days off for students. The schedule also rearranged no-student work days and professional development days for teachers. Vandercar said that the Eugene Education Association and the Managers, Administrators, Professionals and Supervisors Association helped develop the schedule with her over the weekend.
The dates proposed included two dates less than a week away: Dec. 6, which primary schools already had off, and Dec. 7, which secondary schools already had off. Students at all grade levels will now have both days off. The board voted unanimously to modify the calendar with all the dates proposed.
Students will also have Jan. 21 off. Vandercar’s proposal noted that all three dates could be difficult for working parents, as the district will not be able to provide child care.
The 4J Board of Directors will meet next 7 pm Wednesday, Dec. 15 at the 4J Education Center. Because seating is limited, community members who wish to attend must request to attend the meeting on 4J’s website by Monday, Dec. 13 at 5 pm.