Citing safety concerns after the last school board meeting was forced into a recess when audience members refused to wear face masks, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education will not allow in-person attendance at its meeting Wednesday.
The board’s July 7 meeting was the first since March of 2020 in which public attendance was only limited by space in the board room. Less than two months later, it is back to online-only for the public at the board’s Sept. 1 meeting.
“This largely has to do with the behaviors that we had to address during the last board meeting and knowing that there is still a lot of conflict regarding the upcoming school year,” Board President Melissa Ellis said.
At the start of August, Superintendent George Arlotto announced that based on the recommendation of the county health officer and updated CDC guidance, all people in schools who are close to others will need to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. At the last meeting on Aug. 18, several people refused to wear a mask after being asked to by Ellis, and the board went into recess and reconvened with only virtual public access.
Two board members were not wearing masks, which prompted questions from those being kicked out for the same. District 7 Member Michelle Corkadel said she was following the superintendent’s policy for the building because when she was at her seat she was not “near” others. District 3 Member Corine Frank said she has decided not to wear a mask based on her medical history and the end of the state mandate.
On Wednesday, the board will continue discussing reopening schools after more than a year of hybrid and virtual operation. Arlotto will also present his proposed capital budget for fiscal 2023, which goes toward repairs, improvements and construction of schools.
While the Sept. 1 meeting will be closed to the public in-person, the meeting will be streamed online and there will be a chance for virtual testimony, as there has been throughout the pandemic. The board has limited the number of comments it will take on an agenda item to 10.
At the Aug. 18 meeting those 10 speakers per agenda item were selected on a first-come first-served basis. Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said they are making it a random selection instead to make the process more equitable.
Instead of first-come, people will have from 3 p.m. on the Friday before the meeting to midnight that Sunday to register for a chance to speak. If more than 10 people sign up for an item, there will be a drawing for speakers, who will be notified by email.
That gives people all weekend to sign up, rather than favoring those who can be ready online at a certain time to be first in line, Mosier said.
Bringing enough speakers to occupy hours of a board meeting has been a technique used by groups in the past to draw the board’s attention to a specific issue, regardless of what the body plans to discuss.
A performance audit completed in 2020 for AACPS found that more effective management of public input would reduce the number of repetitive statements made before the board and maximize expression of different views. Mosier and Ellis said the limits on the number of speakers is based on that report.
Wednesday at 4 p.m. is the deadline to apply to fill the vacant District 1 seat on the Board of Education. Member Candace Antwine died this summer and the County Council is responsible for filling the seat. Antwine was in the middle of a six-year term, and whoever is appointed will serve at least through December 2024.
As of Friday, one application had been submitted and was under review.