Madison County – A candidate for the Madison County Board of Education claims that the Madison County Board is breaking the law, and its own rules. Vickie Hollifield is running for the Madison County School Board; She attends the board meetings and consequently observed actions that have caused her concern.
Hollifield alleges that the board is “breaking the law” by not printing the policy changes as a handout for attendees, or not reading aloud changes to school board policies at the meetings before they are voted on. She says that the board is not supposed to vote on changes by reference. She also alleges that the board is not following the their own policy, which requires meeting agendas to be posted four days before the meeting.
When asked about the allegations, Madison County School Superintendent Will Hoffman said, “[The] board policy provides ‘each board member will receive a copy of the proposed agenda four days prior to the meeting, and the proposed agenda will be available for public inspection and/or distribution when it is distributed to the board members.’ The meeting agenda is made available for public inspection when it is distributed to board members and the Superintendent’s office will provide a copy of the agenda when requested by members of the public. I am unaware of any request my office has received for a copy of the board’s agenda prior to the meeting. In addition to making the agenda available to members of the public in accordance with our policy, we also place the agenda on the district website when the agenda is published to the board. If you review our website, you will see agendas and meeting notices dating back to July 2020.”
He added, “I am unaware of any law regarding policy changes being read aloud or handed out. Please let me know which law you may be referring to and I hopefully can better answer your question. The Board does not vote on a new policy or policy amendment until the meeting after the initial meeting the policy change was introduced. In other words, the board has a ‘first reading’ and ‘second reading’ of the policy and final approval takes multiple meetings. At any time during that process, members of the public are more than welcome to request copies of the proposed policy changes and to provide input on those potential changes that are being considered.”
What the law says
The Tribune provided Hoffman with the state law (143-318.13c), which states, “The members of a public body shall not deliberate, vote, or otherwise take action upon any matter by reference to a letter, number or other designation, or other secret device or method, with the intention of making it impossible for persons attending a meeting of the public body to understand what is being deliberated, voted, or acted upon. However, this subsection does not prohibit a public body from deliberating, voting, or otherwise taking action by reference to an agenda, if copies of the agenda, sufficiently worded to enable the public to understand what is being deliberated, voted, or acted upon, are available for public inspection at the meeting.”
Hollifield rebutted Hoffman’s response, “The key to all of this is the agenda being sufficiently worded to enable the public to understand what is being deliberated, voted or acted upon. They provide an agenda, but the agenda only gives the policy number and the title of the policy it does not describe what changes are being proposed. The most recent policies that were voted on were said to consist mainly of strikeouts and none of them were listed as new; yet when you go to the board policies on the website Policy Code 7232 is listed as a new policy. Nowhere on the agenda (see documents this page) from December or January are there any details on the policy changes. Again it is not up to the public to request this information. It is up to the school board to willingly provide it. They are not transparent because they do not even discuss these changes in the work sessions.”
Hoffman explained, “The statute provides that reference may be made of agenda items, so long as a copy of the agenda is available to those attending the meeting. We always provide copies of the agenda at meetings, but the Board always refers, by name, as to what is being considered and potentially voted on. I am unaware of the board ever using a numbering or letter reference system as a means of voting on an agenda item.”
Yet a copy of two agendas shows only brief names and numbers being referenced (see picture this page). Hoffman asked about only the name and policy and the lack of “…sufficiently worded to enable the public to understand what is being deliberated, voted, or acted upon, are available for public,” as prescribed by state law.
“They are not spelled out and they are not required to be. Anyone is welcome to request a copy of the materials prior to or at the meeting,” said Hoffman when asked. “Again, I don’t believe anyone has requested proposed policy amendments before. If they did, we would certainly provide them.” He went on to say, “Our policies utilize a numbering system as an organizational tool, but the policies being considered for an amendment during a meeting are listed in the agenda by number and name. The chair reads the policy name and number when the item is being considered.”
Asked had she seen a change in the action of the board since she started attending the meetings, Hollifield said, “After challenging the board on breaking the law and not following their board policies, I saw a brief change where they started following their board policies which require them to post the board meeting agenda four days in advance. However, they seem to be slipping back into the habit of not having it posted on time. Beyond that, they haven’t changed.”
Asked if she had ever asked for a copy of the policies being changed? Hollifield said no. Asked if the board ever announced at a meeting that anyone wanting to know more about the changes that there was a handout available? Hollifield said no.
Who is Vickie Hollifield?
Hollifield has a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master of Arts in Teaching with a license in high school history, middle school math and special education. She has taught in both public and private schools.
“I have nothing to gain from this position (school board) other than being a servant in my community,” she told the Tribune. “I’m already employed by a private Christian school and I have no interest in leaving.”
Asked what inspired her to run for the school board, Hollifield said it was a number of things, including true history being neglected, parental input being ignored, laws being broken without consequences, a lack of accountability and teachers seemingly ignored or targeted because of their viewpoints. She also said kids couldn’t do normal math and are increasingly suffering from mental health issues since COVID. “As a result of all of these issues, our kids are falling behind and don’t know how to logically think through anything.”
Asked what would be her goals as a member of the school board, Hollifield replied, “Reestablish trust with the parents, students, staff, and community. Ensure that we are being as transparent as possible and following open meeting laws. Holding all members of the school accountable and doing regular checks and seeing our students improve and be more prepared to think and research on their own.”
FULL DISCLOSURE: In the interest of transparency, the Tribune wishes readers to know the reporter of this article went to high school with Hollifield’s father.