It was a stunning display of manipulative agenda planning by board president Barbara Mitchell and Skelly, made worse by the failure of the other four board members to take action when it became obvious that the meeting was completely unraveling.
It also provided yet another window into how dysfunctional this group has become in carrying out its basic responsibilities for communicating honestly and clearly with parents and its own teaching staff.
The tone for the meeting was set by the appalling treatment of a nervous middle school student who wanted to tell the board about her bullying experience, a topic on the agenda for late in the meeting. Board president Mitchell refused to let her speak early in the evening, a consideration that has routinely been made for other students so they don't have to wait around on a school night for an item to be discussed later. The girl's short speech was cut off and an adult accompanying her was threatened by Mitchell with removal from the meeting.
From there, the meeting all but disintegrated as one agenda item after another went far beyond their 10-15 minute allotted times until the meeting was more than three hours behind schedule at midnight.
Among the items were several that, if properly communicated and understood by the public, would have generated significant and diverse public input. Instead, the controversial items were obscured from the public and bundled together on a crowded agenda with unrealistic time allocations that made constructive discussion and decision-making impossible.
For example, 10 minutes was scheduled for a presentation and discussion on two proposed major new curriculum initiatives at Palo Alto High School, including one to create a new "Sports Career Pathway" that would allow a student the option of graduating without meeting the so-called A-G course requirements for admission to the UC system, a policy adopted in 2012. That fact was buried in the meeting materials and caught both board members and the public by surprise.
Then another bold teacher initiative, to implement a pilot program at Paly of eliminating lanes for freshman English, was slotted for a 10-minute presentation and discussion, in spite of the fact that this proposal was the result of 18 months of staff work and was a major and controversial program shift.
That discussion ended in a train wreck at 1:15 a.m. with Skelly halfheartedly suggesting the board give the English teachers "a shot" at making it work and the board steadfast in opposing the idea, citing parent objections and their own theories of laning that were at odds with the professional teachers.
And, in a phenomenon that should concern anyone who cares about open government and transparency, almost all "public" input on the topic came not from people who attended the meeting and spoke publicly to the board but through emails or phone calls directly to board members. Since the district does not release communications to board members on agenda items, as is the normal practice at other government bodies, the public has no idea who or what influenced the thinking of board members.
How in the world did Mitchell and Skelly think that such a topic needed just 10 minutes of time on a school board agenda? The only plausible explanation is that they didn't want public awareness or discussion.
For a district that holds up site-based decision-making as its governance model and repeatedly follows the recommendations of its principals, what explains Skelly and the board's shoddy treatment of new Paly principal Kim Diorio and her team of English teachers who had worked so hard on a new concept for delivering freshman English?
Regardless of the merits of the proposal, Skelly and the board's disrespect of its staff was made even worse by their having kept these teachers at the board meeting until after 1 a.m. when they were due back in their classrooms just a few hours later.
Finally, at 1:15 a.m., after their dismissive comments to the Paly English teachers, an incoherent one-hour "discussion" began on the most complicated item on the entire agenda: proposed bullying policies that had been under development for more than a year and which have been so mangled that not even the board members or their attorney could accurately describe them or the history of their development.
The school board and Skelly not only owe the community their apologies, but a "re-do" on these important agenda items. All of us, including the teachers, parents and one middle school student who all left the meeting near tears for the way they were treated, deserve better from those who claim to be working on their behalf.