Wednesday night’s Prince William County School Board meeting went off without disruption in a return to relative normalcy after last month’s meeting was cleared and public comment canceled due to what board members said was a “security call.”
Three weeks ago, shouting matches ensued and demonstrators tried to exceed the announced meeting room capacity, causing the board to clear the building temporarily before the meeting’s open session even began. But on Wednesday night, the only verbal confrontation was over keeping public commenters on agenda topics, a requirement under the board’s new public comment rules.
During the meeting, the board approved submission of a continuing Head Start grant application and added just over $30 million in project savings to the division’s general fund, among other things. The board also awarded contracts for new air purifiers and water filters.
Superintendent LaTanya McDade also announced that effective immediately, the division will now allow employees to use accrued sick leave for up to four weeks of “baby bonding” after pregnancy. She also said that the 1,103 students currently in quarantine for COVID-19 mitigation represented just 1.2% of the overall student population and expressed optimism over the potential approval of the Pfizer COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, which could come later this month.
“Most of the students required to quarantine are not eligible for the vaccination, which is why it’s reassuring to learn last week’s news from Pfizer,” McDade said. “We now have data that confirms the two-dose vaccine is safe for children ages 5 to 11. This is critically important as some of our elementary-age students will soon be eligible for vaccination.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, some teachers requested extra paid time for the additional time school staff is spending to help with transportation among bus staffing shortages.
Several teachers also delivered public remarks insisting that no one in school buildings was teaching what’s known as Critical Race Theory, a graduate-level academic focus on how race is integral to U.S. history and government.
Other community members spoke out against race-sensitive instruction and books containing sexually explicit material available in high school libraries, but all was done without creating any significant disruption aside from board members asking that comments stay on topic, resulting in guffaws from the crowd.
Board Chair Babur Lateef closed the meeting discussing unity in values across political sides, pointing to Gainesville Board Member Jennifer Wall, who is supported by the local Republican Party, saying that they both share the same values despite differing political views. He said that should be a model for civil discourse surrounding the school board. And Coles Member Lisa Zargapur thanked community members for coming to give public comment after it was suspended last meeting.
“We’ll take emails, listen to what you have to say. I’m happy to do a phone call just so you know because sometimes [speaking at meetings] is difficult,” Zargapur said.