Standing silently, making eye contact, and making people feel uncomfortable are now considered threats at Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meetings.
Honestly, I really don’t know why any of you believe what I post here about the school board. Most of the time, if I didn’t see it for myself, I wouldn’t believe it either.
You’d think by that point, I’d be over my ability to be shocked by the board and the superintendent, but the six of them just kept pushing the limits of credulity. They claimed that they knew they were meeting IEPs because they weren’t being sued. They thought paying $1.9 million dollars to recruit unqualified “teachers” to teach when they could instead hire qualified teachers for $1.9 million less was a great idea. They suggested filing a grievance would be the best way to get a response, and then moments later decided that the grievance policy didn’t apply to them.
If I were writing a novel, no one would ever publish it. It’s too ridiculous.
And Thursday night, the ridiculousness continued.
This all started on December 15th. That night, I read my statement, and with about 90 seconds remaining, I stood, silently waiting for an answer from the board for approximately 80 of those seconds. I did not move my hands nor my feet. I stood still, making eye contact with each of the board members as well as the superintendent. When my time clock approached 15 seconds remaining, I said, “Thank you,” and I took my seat.
It seems that standing and waiting about 80 seconds for an answer to a question that I’ve been asking for three months is considered threatening, or so I was informed by Mr. Alfred Lankford, the head of Board Security, in a private discussion Thursday night before the board meeting. Mr. Lankford tapped me on the shoulder as I was sitting waiting for the board meeting to begin, and asked me if he could speak with me in private. As he and I have spoken to each other often at meetings before, I quickly agreed. While looking for a private room to have our conversation, he asked for Mr. Jeff Broadway the other board security officer to join us. Mr. Broadway did not speak during our discussion.
I want to make one thing clear. I like Mr. Lankford and Mr. Broadway. They are both nice guys, and I am fully aware that they have a difficult job. It is not my intention to make their job harder.
Thursday night I was informed by Mr. Lankford that if I wish to speak during the Citizen’s Comments section of the board meeting, I would not be allowed to stand silently waiting for an answer. I would have to speak and then sit down. The consequences of pulling this “stunt” again would mean that I would be banned from all future board meetings.
Mr. Lankford went on to inform me that I had made “everyone” feel uncomfortable and that he considered my actions as a threat. He certainly hoped that I didn’t intend to threaten others.
I asked him if this new rule was being applied to everyone or just to me, and he said everyone. He followed this up by saying, “This was my call as security, so don’t blame Dr. Wardynski.”
I had a difficult time not laughing when he said this to me.
He then told me that if I had questions for the board, I should ask them via email or in a private meeting. I suppose that Mr. Lankford was too busy watching for threats to actually listen to the content of my comments. Sometimes silence speaks much louder than words.
We concluded our meeting with him asking me if I understood the consequences of what would happen if I tried my “stunt” again. I assured him that I did, offered him my hand and left to take my seat to wait for Mr. Blair to read his Citizen’s Comments preamble at the end of the meeting.
Before allowing citizens to speak at the board meetings, Mr. Blair reads the following text:
The Citizen Comments section of the board agenda provides an opportunity for public comment on any item concerning public education and provides for any resident up to three minutes to fully present his or her position on a particular issue. Speakers are required to include their name and address before speaking. A speaker cannot delegate his or her time to another person. Speakers will not be limited unless they become repetitive and no new information is provided. The time clock is displayed in the front board station. We request that no one make any disparaging remarks, comments or statements pertaining to the good name and character of any individual. Finally, please do not expect any board action or response on a request or a comment made under this section. This will allow the board the opportunity to responsibly study, research all expressed concerns, issues or requests.
There were no changes to the preamble from the previous meetings I have attended.
After the meeting, I approached Mr. Lankford for some clarification.
Seeing me, he smiled and jokingly asked why I didn’t speak tonight. I informed him that it had never been my intention to speak tonight, but that I did have something that I needed him to clarify for me.
RW: So, let me make sure that I understand your position.
RW: You, and others, believe that a person standing silently is making a threat?
AL: Well, there was a lot of staring as well.
RW: You’re right. The board members were staring at me. I was making eye-contact. But again, you believe that is making a threat?
AL: You made a lot of people in the audience uncomfortable. You can’t do that. I’m not sure that the board even noticed. It’s my job to make sure that people aren’t uncomfortable in the board meetings.
RW: Listen, I want you to know that it was not my intention to threaten anyone. Nor did I intend to make your job more difficult. If I did, I’m sorry.
To those people sitting in the audience on Thursday, December 15th, I would like to offer you my apology as well. It was not my intention to make any of you feel threatened nor to make you uncomfortable. If I have caused your Christmas holidays to be less than a joyous occasion, please let me know so that I may apologize to you personally. My questions, on the other hand, were specifically intended to make the board uncomfortable. It seems that it worked.
Waiting quietly for answers, making eye contact, and generally making people feel uncomfortable are all off limits now. At least for me. I would therefore suggest to Mr. Blair the following changes to his “Preamble” to Citizen’s Comments.
The Citizen Comments section of the board agenda provides an opportunity for public comment on any item concerning public education and provides for any resident up to three minutes to fully present his or her position on a particular issue. It also provides us an opportunity to appear to care about the little people as we pack up to go home. Speakers are required to include their name and address before speaking. A speaker must show the expected reverence due to the board of education when approaching the board. A speaker cannot delegate his or her time to another person. A speaker should approach the board slowly and quietly as the board members are easily threatened. We suggest that speakers keep their heads down at all times as eye contact with your superiors is inappropriate. Speakers will not be limited unless they become repetitive and no new information is provided or unless we’re just sick of hearing from you. The time clock is displayed in the front board station. God help you if you make any disparaging remarks, comments or statements pertaining to the good name and character of any individual. Finally, please do not expect any board action or response on a request or a comment made under this section unless you have sued us. This will allow the board the opportunity to pretend to responsibly study, research all expressed concerns, issues or requests and quietly dismiss them without embarrassment to us or harming our reelection campaigns.