2/28/12 Board members clash over request

Board members clash over request
Rose: Chairwoman interfered with attempt to get information from staff
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 2/28/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   A debate over how school board members and Alamance-Burlington School System staff communicate with each other continued during a Monday night meeting.

   School board member Tony Rose said board Chairwoman Jackie Cole had interfered in telling staff the board did not need information he had requested about the pertussis — commonly known as whooping cough — outbreak that has affected the system’s students.

   With the outbreak “obviously an escalating problem within our system and our county,” Rose said, it could be helpful for the board to examine data such as how many families get vaccination waivers for religious reasons, information about students’ booster shots and other potential factors in the outbreak.

   Rose said Cole had “inappropriately informed staff that the board did not need that information” and added “she does not have the authority to un-ask for any information a board member (requests).”

   Cole said her action “was not to keep any information from this board,” but was meant to ask “was there a real need” for the board to get extensive information from system staff “who (have) a full plate as it is.”

   “I apologize if you felt it was,” she said about Rose’s statement she had attempted to override his request, “but that is not the case.” Cole said Rose’s request had been made Friday and “it’s only Monday evening.”

   Cole said Rose could have approached her with his concerns outside of a public meeting. Rose said he has warned her he would go public with long-standing concerns if the situation did not improve.

   After the board concluded the open portion of its meeting to go into a closed session, Rose handed a Times-News reporter a copy of an email exchange that included emails written by him, Cole and school system spokeswoman Jenny Faulkner.

   Rose broke his request into five sections, asking questions that include the possibility of sibling relationships contributing to the spread of pertussis among classrooms and schools.

   In response to a request for information from Rose to Faulkner and Superintendent Lillie Cox that he copied to other board members, Cole wrote, “I am confident that the professionals at the Health Department, NC Department of Public Health and the CDC are handling this situation and there is no reason that our board needs any of the information that you have requested.”

   Rose responded the information could help the board determine “if we need to make any policy changes regarding immunization requirements, visitors, etc. for the protection of all our children … If you do not desire to see the information then it is your prerogative to not read or consider it. However, if your statement is intended to negate my request, it does not.”

   On Monday night, Cox said the system doesn’t “have all the information” Rose requested and has been in contact with the Health Department after the request.

   Rose and board member Patsy Simpson said they’ve learned things from reading the newspaper and questioned if the system could be more active, in addition to the Health Department’s efforts, to keep parents informed. Simpson said she hasn’t always had information to answer parents’ questions.

   “The bigger issue is just communication,” she said, referring to a retreat meeting the board held in an effort to improve interaction among members.

   Board member Mary Erwin suggested the board might consider a different method of requesting information from staff members.

   “Maybe throw it out there for the whole board to discuss,” she said, in situations where a request may be time-consuming. During another part of the discussion, Simpson said no board member wants to use staff time unwisely and said no individual member should be “censored” if no other board members are interested in the information.    Board member Kristen Moffitt, a pediatrician, said dealing with pertussis is best handled by local health officials.

   “The details of the epidemic, if you will, should be left to the Health Department,” she said.

   Board member Steve Van Pelt said he has talked with the Health Department director and believes the department will give the system guidance as to any precautions that are needed.

   “If they need us to curtail travel or do other things, they’ll let us know,” he said, referring to a suggestion that the system might need to keep an eye on travel for sports or other reasons to systems where pertussis is an issue.

   Rose said some information — such as the number of students at individual schools who have received a vaccination waiver — is maintained at schools and is available there rather than at the Health Department.

   The discussion concluded with no firm agreement on what will happen, but with the system’s request for information from the Health Department still in place and with the potential for one or more Health Department representatives coming to the board’s next work session.