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Vermont State Board of Education agrees to change meeting policies after criticism

A classroom without children
The State Board of Education has faced criticism over who is able to participate in its meetings as it discusses issues including private school rules.

The State Board of Education has agreed to change how it runs its public meetings after hearing from a number of groups around the state who accused the board of excluding historically marginalized populations from policy discussions and violating open meeting laws.

In a series of letters sent to the State Board over the past month, at least four organizations said the board was not doing enough to keep its work transparent and accessible. The groups included the Office of Racial Equity, the Vermont Superintendents Association, a group of 16 lawmakers, and Vermont Education Equity Alliance.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the issue Sept. 20, but in an email message to Vermont Public, State Board of Education Chair Jennifer Samuelson said the board would make changes to how it holds meetings after consulting Gov. Phil Scott’s office and the Agency of Education.

Samuelson has been only sending out video links to board members, and members of the public directly involved with the issue being discussed, but she now says all members of the public will be able to link into the discussions during the board meetings.

Families’ participation in private school talks

Samuelson’s shift in how the meetings will be run comes after Vermont’s Office of Racial Equity senta letter to the board earlier this month saying it was concerned that families of color, parents and students with disabilities, and families of LGBTQIA+ students were being left out of recent discussions about new rules governing independent schools.

The State Board has been discussing proposed changes toRule 2200, that, among other things, establishes how private schools that accept public money need to serve students with disabilities.

The Office of Racial Equity says working parents cannot attend the daytime meetings, and that the voices of families that are being shut out of the meetings are being left out of the rule development process. The office also says there is a lack of consideration for the needs of parents and students who use languages beyond English.

The office says the Agency of Education website has not been updated with translated materials from the recent meetings, nor has the State Board offered translation services, as is required under federal law.

Samuelson, in a letter responding to the Office of Racial Equity, said the board would review the critique and get back to the office.

Phone-in only

A group of 16 lawmakers also senta letter to the State Board of Education saying they have received complaints from constituents about how recent meetings have limited public participation.

The lawmakers said the complaints were “met with vague responses and a lack of action.”

The lawmakers said the State Board has been holding meetings which were only accessible by phone, but the board was sharing materials, and having discussions, outside of the public eye.

Board Chair Samuelson, inresponding to the letter, said it’s been the board’s regular practice to only include board members, and members of the public who are scheduled to appear before the board, in the online meetings.

The public has been forced to call in only, and they don’t have access to online materials which are being discussed.

And at another meeting, where the board was sharing information and chatting about the search process for a new Secretary of Education,Vermont Superintendents Association Executive Director Jeff Francis said the board was “deliberating behind some form of visual barrier with full and direct access to one another and the work products being discussed while the public (was) left to try to follow along, listening in from the other side of the visual barrier.”

Samuelson,in a letter to Francis, said the board stopped sharing material online and chatting on the side once the issue was raised.

In August the Vermont Education Equity Alliance said the board “used an opaque process to advance Rule 2200 series changes over the course of a few weeks during the summer while Vermont was recovering from catastrophic flooding.”

The State Board of Education does not have staff members to help with policy issues, and Samuelson says the board relies on the Agency of Education for input.

Samuelson says the agency, and the board, will discuss other accessibility issues beyond just sending out video links at its next meeting.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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