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APS committed to openness

In the spirit of Sunshine Week, I find it appropriate to shed some sunlight on both the past and future proceedings of the Alpena Public Schools district.

Beginning with its committee meetings the week of April 12, the Alpena Board of Education is scheduled to hold its first in-person meetings in over a year. However, in compliance with the March 19, 2021 Emergency Order on Gatherings and Face Masks issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Board of Education is directed to limit attendance of those meetings to no more than 25 people.

That number is inclusive of seven board members, one superintendent, one Board of Education secretary, three APS Central Office administrators, and three representatives from the local media. If you are keeping track, that is 15 out of the 25 allowed seats, leaving room for only 10 more attendees. We recognize the challenges to holding open meetings and especially to the perception of our holding open meetings those attendance limits will present.

I found it interesting to review this year’s history of executive orders and board meetings. My review showed the board’s commitment to meeting publicly, even when not required to by the state of Michigan. History also shows that public attendance has been very high in recent months. With that being stated, please consider the following:

∫ On March 18, 2020, the governor issued Executive Order 2020-15, which temporarily suspended in-person public body meetings. In accordance with the order, APS held a remote meeting on March 23, 2020, by teleconference.

∫ Executive Order 2020-75 extended the virtual requirement and relieved school boards of the requirement to meet monthly until June 30, 2020. The APS Board of Education met June 1 and June 15 in open meetings using the videoconferencing software Zoom.

∫ Executive Order 2020-129 extended virtual requirements and the relief from meeting monthly until July 31, 2020. The APS Board of Education held an open meeting on July 8 using Zoom.

∫ Executive Order 2020-154, Senate Bill 1108, and Public Act 254 of 2020 collectively extended the authority to hold virtual meetings through March 31, 2021. Each month during that period brought uncertainty as to whether the board would be able to meet in person or not, yet, through it all, the APS board met as scheduled.

Attendance at APS Board meetings has increased significantly under the virtual format. I submit the following for your consideration:

The boardroom at 2373 Gordon Road has 45 chairs available. Conversations with Central Office personnel who have been in Alpena longer than I have revealed that, in years past, the majority of those chairs remain empty during in-person meetings.

On the other hand, attendance at our virtual meetings this school year has at many meetings far exceeded the number of chairs available for an in-person meeting. For example, 73 people logged on to the Dec. 12, 2020 meeting, 78 on Feb. 15, 2021, 173 on March 2, 2021, and 45 on March 15, 2020.

Those impressive attendance numbers indicate that, in a virtual environment, more citizens have been able to participate in the board’s open meetings.

I am sympathetic to those who do not have reliable access to technology and, therefore, feel as if they have not been able to participate in our meetings. I also understand that there are members of our community who lack the time and/or transportation to attend in-person meetings. Barriers to participating in open meetings exist in our society.

We at APS strive to remove as many barriers to participating in our meetings as we can. In that vein, the Board of Education and I are committed to offering as many options to attend the meetings as possible. The upcoming meetings will offer an in-person option — limited, of course, to the 25 people in attendance — as well as an online option. The meetings will continue to be hosted via Zoom for those who cannot attend in person.

Public participation is crucial to the success of public schools. I have seen the benefits of hearing from interested members of the community as a teacher, a parent, a central office administrator, and, now, as a superintendent. It is my hope that our APS family continues to stay engaged in the business of the school district as we continue to make our way back to times without restrictions due to COVID-19.

Dave Rabbideau is the superintendent of Alpena Public Schools. During his 20-plus-year career in public education, he has served as an elementary teacher, building principal, and central office administrator. Mr. Rabbideau is currently completing his doctorate in Educational Leadership at Oakland University.

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