School Board bylaw discussion again postponed

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Isle of Wight County School Board has again delayed action on a series of proposed bylaws that would replace 22 existing policies.

The School Board declined to readopt its code of ethics or board protocols for 2023 at its Jan. 12 reorganizational meeting. Board Chairman John Collick made a motion to adopt the 14-page bylaw document he’d drafted earlier that week, but he rescinded his motion pending further discussion at a later meeting.

The bylaws had been listed as an agenda item for the board’s Jan. 19 work session, but following a nearly two-hour discussion on the school division’s proposed capital improvements plan, Vice Chairman Jason Maresh made a motion to again table the bylaws to a “date to be determined later.” Board member Mark Wooster seconded the motion, which then passed unanimously with board member Michael Cunningham absent.

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The bylaws document calls for the board clerk, who reports to the board and the superintendent under existing School Board policy, to instead report “directly to the chair.”  

Policy BCC currently states the clerk and deputy clerk are to discharge their duties “under the general supervision of the superintendent,” though Isle of Wight County Schools’ organizational flow chart lists the clerk as reporting to the School Board. According to division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the two clerk positions have other administrative duties and the proposed change may impact those duties.

Another change from existing board policies would move public comments on agenda items to the beginning of each meeting’s open session at 6 p.m. Per the draft, agenda-item comments would occur immediately after the chair’s welcome and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and any comments on non-agenda items would follow recognition of students as “Isle of Wight Achievers” and any special presentation.  

A 30-minute public comment cap had come under fire in 2021 from critics of the school system’s equity and inclusion initiatives who would frequently use and sometimes exceed the allotted time. Collick, Maresh and board member Mark Wooster each campaigned for their respective seats in 2021 and 2022 on platforms of opposition to Critical Race Theory. Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who also campaigned on opposition to CRT in 2021, signed an executive order in 2022 mandating an end to “inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory” in public schools.

Another new policy in Collick’s draft bylaws states that the School Board “shall not waive any bylaw” and “shall not waive any policy” without having a “majority vote at two consecutive meetings.” The chair would then be required to write a “written justification” for the waiving of the policy and to post that statement to Isle of Wight County Schools’ website within seven days of the vote. The proposed additions would effectively bar the School Board from following through on its 2022 vote to rename Smithfield High School’s career and technical education building for retired Superintendent Jim Thornton. 

School Board attorney Pakapon “Pak” Phinyowattanachip told the board in December that it had relied on an “incorrect version” of one of its policies when voting to rename the building.  A March 2015 version of School Board Policy FFA, which states “no school will be named for a living individual,” had been slated for reauthorization at the board’s Dec. 8 meeting. According to School Board records, however, the board had revoted on June 11, 2015, on a different Policy FFA version that added the words “or school facility” to the prohibition. The board plans to vote in February on reauthorizing the June 2015 version.

Another change Collick’s draft bylaws propose states “neither the superintendent nor his staff is authorized to hold any meeting for the general public, without the express, prior approval of the School Board.”