AAPS Board Talks Gun Control; Student Suspensions Down

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (October 14, 2015): Forsythe Middle School auditorium

During the regular meeting, beginning at 7:00 PM, the trustees will hear the annual report on student conduct and discipline, as well as a briefing on action taken by the district on Senate Bill 442, which would allow for concealed carry of guns in gun-free zones.

Representative Jeff Irwin will be present to speak about recent legislation moving through the Michigan legislature.

Voting tonight will be on the Red & Ed catalog contract, the locksmith services contract, and the Huron Auditorium air handling unit replacement contract.

7:00 PM 

Meeting called to order by Board President Deb Mexicotte. All trustees are present.

AGENDA APPROVAL

Mexicotte noted that the Executive Committee has not had a chance to meet yet and asks that the expiration of the 3000 and 4000 policies be extended through December, since the committee has not yet had a chance to review them. She also notes that the state representatives who were slated to talk have been held up in Lansing and, as of now, will not be able to attend the board meeting. The trustees unanimously approve the agenda.

7:08 PM STUDENT PERFORMANCE: Huron High School Symphony Orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, directed by Timothy Krohn 

Huron High School Symphony Orchestra
Huron High School Symphony Orchestra

Andy Thomas is amazed at the “depth and richness” of the sound. Vice President Christine Stead tells the students how important the work they were doing. Patricia Manley says “fantastic, outstanding, incredible, noteworthy.” She and Simone Lightfoot are proud they were once part of the Huron River Rat community. Donna Lasinski says it is a “bold choice” that the orchestra came wearing their street clothes, not a uniform. Susan Baskett recognizes the quality of AAPS music programs.

7:28 PM  PUBLIC COMMENTARY

Three people signed up for public commentary, with four minutes allotted to each.

Glenn Nelson, former member of BOE: pleased and appreciative of continued and improving excellence of AAPS. Everyone is doing a remarkable job in light of difficult policies being imposed on district by state. Is here tonight to talk about Rick’s Run, which honors legacy of Rick Deacon, a physical education teacher in AAPS, and raises money for scholarships for Rec and Ed programs. Rick’s Run is a family-friendly 5K walk/run. Scheduled at 9AM on October 24. Registration is $30/individual. Donations are welcome and will go directly to scholarship funds. Asks that people support Rick’s Run by participating or making a donation.

Sonya Lewis, psychiatrist, mother of two in AAPS, violin player: talk about issue of guns in schools. Thanks the board profusely for their work. Delighted for the outcome of the court decision, but now need to change the laws. She thanked Superintendent Jeanice Swift for her testimony in Lansing yesterday regarding the concealed carry law Lansing, which passed through committee. Danger is danger, regardless of seen or unseen. Climate in Michigan means this law will most likely make it through to Snyder’s desk. Thanks the board again for unwavering support on this issue.

Steve Norton, parent advocate executive director of Michigan Parents for Schools: wanted to discuss SB 442 – as parent advocate group, we firmly believe there is no reason for anyone on school property to carry a weapon of any kind. No reason why state of Michigan should make a “huge hole” in that defense. Extremely pleased to see Swift testifying. Glad to see breadth of leaders who spoke to the issue, holding to the same point. Encourage to the extent policy, reach out and make common cause with school boards and administrations across the state. Only by having cross-regional alliances that they were able to affect change. State reps being held captive – votes to report out 3rd grade reading retention bill. Norton’s group: encourage diagnostic and remediation parts of the bill. Mandatory retention should come out of the bill. State Rep Adam Zemke and others have an amendment, to essentially make the retention non-existent.

7:41 PM ASSOCATION REPORTS

BPSSG: Glenda Wilkes, former AAPS educator, two students in AAPS. Excited about new school year, because it presents new opportunities to create stronger partnership to move forward towards common goal. Do not take gesture lightly that Thomas and Swift both said they were glad to see the group at last meeting. Want board and administration to listen and learn to the group’s concerns and their unique perspectives on issues in the district. Next general meeting: November 5

PTOC: Steve Norton, PTOC rep from Pioneer HS. PTOC is made up of reps from all PTOs in the districts. Plan for programming this year:  focusing on the question of what we as parents can do to ensure greater equity in the district. The PTOC holds monthly meetings: Health issues, testing, school choice, update on new initiatives, budget, fundraising and the question of equity, annual wrap-up. T Next meeting: annual launch party. Introduction from Swift, food from Chartwells, and panel discussion with Lasinski, Stead, Zemke, and Michigan Board of Education President John Austin. Everyone is welcome. Senate Bill 442: Thanks the superintendent and board for leadership taken on the issue of guns in schools. Norton was at the committee hearing – committee heard no scientific testimony that would show schools would be safer with guns. Committee reported the bill before they finished hearing testimony.

AAEA: Linda Carter. Shares that three Huron High teachers are part of a program jointly run by the MEA and MSU. Winston and the MDE should be applauded for listening to the concerns expressed by students, teachers, by reducing student testing time. Hopes that this marks the beginning of a new ear where decisions are made after listening to people on “the front line.” Thanks Swift for her work on SB 442.

7:57 PM SUPERINTENDENT REPORT

Announcing that Snyder has proclaimed October as Michigan’s Principals Month, Swift recognizes and thanks the work done by the district’s principals. She also recognized the Skyline High School Writing Center, the Community High Dean. Preview of film: Most Likely to Succeed at Michigan Theater.  Must RSVP at the Michigan Theater website to get a ticket.

Also recognized a new 10-year partnership between Pathways to Success and Zingerman’s called ‘Zingpath.’ A cohort of 12 students will have the opportunity to participate in the Zingtrain program, along with all other new Zingerman hires.

8:04 PM PLANNING COMMITTEE: has not met since last meeting. Will meet next on November 4, 9:00 AM

PERFORMANCE COMMITTEE: met last Wednesday. Thomas notes that the committee heard a report on district suspension. Will be hearing a detailed report at tonight’s meeting, so he won’t detail it out.

GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE: will meet October 16 at 3 PM at Balas.

8:07 PM INFORMATION ITEMS

SENATE BILL 442: concealed carry in gun-free zones

Swift brings the full text of the bill, which is 38 pages long. Feels like this is fast tracked, says Swift. SB 442 would prohibit open carry of weapons in places such as schools and dorms, but would permit concealed carry of weapons in all of those areas. Swift testified in front of the committee. She says that some of the members of the committee believe that concealed carry would be better than open carry, which would help reduce the disruption, and would close the loopholes. But Swift says that guns, open or concealed, present a significant threat in our schools: “Out of sight does not mean out of danger.” Well intended people with gun training are just like anyone else; they are prone to make mistakes. Yesterday, she implored the legislators to not compromise the safety of students by allowing guns in schools. The answer is not concealed weapons in Michigan’s schools.

Thomas prefaces his remarks by thanking Swift for doing such “an outstanding job” of representing the district. Proud of the district being at the forefront of this controversy. Wants to clarify that the bill says that if someone has a CPL, they can take their weapon anywhere. Wants to be told that he is wrong in this interpretation. It’s not just about keeping guns out of schools, but about keeping guns out of bars, stadiums, hospitals, dorms, etc. If it passes, it means that there are no places in Michigan where guns are excluded.

Comsa clarifies that a CPL holder would have to apply for an exemption, which costs $20. Comsa says that there is a provision that would allow a private property owner from prohibiting a weapon, but not a public property.

Stead says that while the legislation is “tone-deaf,” the district parents are not. She shares a story where a friend of hers was volunteering in an elementary school while the students participated in an active shooter drill. The parent told of trying not to cry while another small student rocked back and forth, crying. And this, Stead says, “is what we do for the privilege of being able to have guns.” She says that this is about working towards a long term strategy to changing policy. She asks that parents help by writing to Governor Snyder to ask to veto the bill. Adding more guns into the situation, openly carried or concealed, is not the answer, says Stead.

Patricia Manley, Vice President Christine Stead, President Deb Mexicotte, Superintendent Jeanice Swift
(L to R): Trustee Patricia Manley, Vice President Christine Stead, President Deb Mexicotte, Superintendent Jeanice Swift

“We have to survive this legislation,” echoes Lightfoot. She asks that parents flood Snyder’s office by asking him to veto the bill. Lightfoot thinks that the fast tracking of this bill was in part because of AAPS’s victory in court against open carry in schools.

Lasinski asks Comsa if this legislation passes and it is not vetoed, are the arguments that the district presented still valid. The school board’s duties are to keep their students safe. Mexicotte says that she doesn’t see the district policies changing regardless of the outcome of this bill, as their arguments remain unchanged. When it comes to policies vis-a-vis SB 442, she doesn’t see any reaction to it. Lasinski says that the district’s argument is strong and will remain so.

Baskett says that this policy will not “make the open-carry folks go away.” Under this legislation, guns must be concealed. Baskett says that she is not eloquent, she is just angry. She wants to get into “action mode.” She asks who will lead the charge against this policy.

Thomas agrees with Stead and Lightfoot, saying that this is an issue where public comment needs to go directly to Snyder. He emphasizes that this is a much wider piece of legislation that just guns in schools. Baskett again calls for a leader in the movement.

Comsa will be doing a presentation on the district’s position at MASB. AAPS BOE will be contacting all school boards across the state to share with them AAPS policy. Because of the court win, the district is able to “hold onto the policy” for a while, says Mexicotte. And if other districts also adopt similar policies, there will be greater strength in numbers. AAPS has worked to build larger coalitions, and has been offered legal defense down the road. Stead says that there is a petition on Moveon.org regarding the bill.

Mexicotte cites Jack Lessenberry: our legislators have “just lost their minds” and they are trying to have us join their lunacy. Their constituents want common-sense gun laws. Mexicotte says that we are hanging on by our fingernails to keep our most vulnerable population safe from this lunacy. We have decided to go completely backwards, back to the Wild Wild West. No right in this country that does not have reasonable limits. Every right has a time, place, and manner to it, including free speech. People who carry guns expect to use them, in the same way people who own cars expect to use them. We need to limit guns and to limit the expectation of use. She says that there is a way out of this lunacy. As a group, every single last one of them needs to stop taking money from the NRA and the gun lobby. And then they will be free to represent their constituents. “Stop taking the money, then represent your constituents.”

9:03 PM Annual Student Conduct Report

Swift says that she appreciates the opportunity each fall to “look in the mirror” to evaluate where the district stands on student conduct. Will be presenting a five-year look at suspension numbers. Reductions in suspension numbers have happened as result of strategic planning. Seeds of the change planted five years ago. Swift says that if they can move this data, they can move the data for the achievement gap.

Jane Landefeld, Executive Director of Student Accounting & Research Services, shares the data.

High school suspension decreased in all areas: total students dropped by 48%, African American dropped by 38%, Asian by 71%, Caucasian by 57%, and all other by 49%. Special education student suspensions have also significantly decreased.

Over the past five years, there has been a decline in suspensions in all significant areas: African American students, special education students, male students, and economically disadvantaged students. One of the flat areas that the district has had is suspensions between economically disadvantaged students.

Middle school suspensions decreased in all areas. Total student suspension dropped by 75%. Landefeld says that it is “truly something special” to see such a drop in suspensions.

Elementary schools have had a drop from 116 students suspended in 2010-11 school year to 26 students in the 2014-15 school year. A 74% drop in suspensions.

Behavior specialist impact: the program began in 2012-13. When the program first began, there was about a 50% rate of suspension, there is now about a 10% rate of suspension among the students who are referred to the behavior specialist program.

9:24 PM Now that there has been such a dramatic decrease, Swift brings in Dawn Linden, Executive Director, Elementary Education, to help explain how that decrease happened. Swift says that all schools are expected to have a plan to support students. Not all schools will use the same plan, not all schools will use a canned program, but all schools need to be able to justify the plan they use.

Plans in use at AAPS
Plans in use at AAPS

Linden says that each of the plans in the schools are about care and relationships. At the elementary level: Positive Behavior Intervention and Support; Responsive Classroom; Leader in Me; Mindfulness. At both the elementary and secondary levels: Peer to Peer program. At the secondary level: Developmental Design (a partner program to the Responsive Classroom); Link Crew and WEB; Behavioral Intervention Specialists; Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.

Thomas wants to highlight the dramatic decrease of suspensions at the middle school level, saying that if a student can make it through middle school, it sets that student up for more success in high school. He attributes some of the change having to do with consistency in applying discipline and focusing on the “five deadly sins,” as identified by Swift: causing physical harm to another student, getting into a physical altercation, substance use, weapons, and some kinds of bullying.

Lightfoot expresses her excitement about the drop in suspensions. She’s interested in knowing if the buildings are also feeling the same kind of success. Swift says that while each school has received its own data, they have yet to have a district-wide conversation about it. Lightfoot says that when she came to Swift with concerns about students, the superintendent said for her to give it time. That time has proven to be enough, applauds Lightfoot.

Simone Lightfoot
Simone Lightfoot

Manley acknowledges the decrease in numbers, but emphasizes that African American students still experience the highest number of suspensions. She wants to know what those suspensions are for, so that families can better focus on them. Baskett agrees, saying that previous categories of suspensions have included “insubordination,” which is a charged term.

Mexicotte confirms that although schools use different plans, each plan is effective. Linden says that plans would not be allowed to use if the plans were ineffective.

The report will be released to the public in the near future. One correction to the data needs to be made.

10:07 PM SPECIAL COMMENTARY: REP JEFF IRWIN

Representative Jeff Irwin speaks to the board
Representative Jeff Irwin speaks to the board

Representative Jeff Irwin is present to speak a little about what is going on in Lansing. He would have been at the meeting earlier, but was stuck in Lansing waiting for a vote to go up on the 3rd grade reading retention bill, HB 4822. Talks will resume tomorrow. He shares his frustration with Lansing dictating to school boards and educators how they need to better improve their students’ performances. While there are some elements of the bill that he agrees with, namely some of the interventions offered, he does not believe that Lansing is allowing for enough autonomy in districts.

Irwin thanks the board for their fight on SB 442. He says, “The presence of more guns will lead to more shots fired and more damage done to human life.” Irwin says this isn’t about school shootings, but about what happens day in and day out. Keeping guns out of schools will keep students safer day to day.

SB 442 has passed the senate committee, notes Irwin. The testimony and opposition to the bill was “overwhelming,” but the vote went exactly the opposite way. He says there probably are the votes to pass it in the house. One of the most important ideas they can advance in this debate, he says, is local control. Local control tends to cross partisan boundaries. Irwin says the best opportunity to end this legislation is through the governor’s veto power. The public needs to communicate to the governor that this is a bad idea.

Thomas is angry that the conversation is just about schools, when the bill extends concealed carry to stadiums, hospitals, and bars. He doesn’t think that the public has heard anything about the bill other than how it would impact public schools, but he wants the public to be more aware of the greater impact. Irwin says there “are plenty of people who think CPL holders are the good guys,” and this is the battle they are fighting.

When Lightfoot says she’s concerned about how quickly the bill is moving, Irwin says that they are going move it quickly, precisely because they know their arguments are “dicey.”

Stead asks that he let the board know if there is anything they can do to help the cause. Irwin says that it would be worthwhile to take official action as a board and let the Governor see it. He encourages anyone who cares about the issue to call up the governor’s office:  517-373-3400.

Whatever the outcome of this bill, the board has policies in effect which will remain in effect. A weapon in a school constitutes an emergency, and Mexicotte says they don’t see any change in their policies as they move forward. She emphasizes that the legislature is out of sync from their communities, and clearly is out of sync with what the law requires of school districts.

Irwin says that one of the few small victories that Democrats have won in the legislature is a study done on what it costs to give quality education in Michigan. Once that study is completed, he says, it should give some ammunition to legislators in making sea changes for how education is treated at the state level.

10:38 PM SECOND BRIEFING ITEMS

  • Rec & Ed Catalog Printing Contract
  • Locksmith Services Contract
  • Huron Auditorium Air Handling Unit Replacment Contract

No changes have been made to the items, and none of the trustees had any additional questions.

10:39 PM CONSENT AGENDA

  • Rec & Ed Catalog Printing Contract
  • Locksmith Services Contract
  • Huron Auditorium Air Handling Unit Replacment Contract
  • Donations/Gifts

The consent agenda is unanimously approved.

10:41 PM BOARD ACTION

Mexicotte makes a motion to extend the expiration of the 3000 and 4000 series policies to December 31, 2015 to allow for further review.
The board action is unanimously approved.

 10:42 PM AGENDA PLANNING

Manley asks for an update on the International Baccalaureate program, regarding hiring and performance towards meeting benchmarks.

Mexicotte says there is a study session scheduled for next week, but there is no topic. Since the trustees have nothing pressing, it is possible to take off the schedule – will be discussed in Executive Committee.

10:45 PM ITEMS FROM THE BOARD

Thomas is thrilled that Ann Arbor is a community that supports the arts. Through a partnership with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, students in the district were able to interact with the orchestra.

Stead says that the board has shared their policy regarding guns in schools with other boards. Also notes that the special education millage expires in 2017. Millage gets put on the ballot through WISD, so all districts in Washtenaw need to get together to support the millage. She also asks if they want to look at special education funding more fully. It currently is funded at anywhere from 50-70%. She says that it would be a different kind of effort to get support for the millage if it were

Lasinski notes that there is an opportunity to exercise a citizen’s right to vote this November. There is a proposal on the ballot regarding AAATA that would positively impact students who live in Scio Township. She encouraged all members of the community to vote in November.

Baskett advertises Freedom Fund Scholar Dinner, held on November 1, sponsored by Ann Arbor NAACP branch. Will be recognized 160+ students.

10:56 PM MEETING ADJOURNED


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