BRISTOL – The Bristol Public Schools Board of Education voted at its monthly meeting to revoke a policy that previously granted the district superintendent Dr. Catherine Carbone temporary powers to address the covid-19 pandemic.
The policy, which was titled “Emergency and Disaster Preparedness - pandemic/epidemic emergencies - emergency suspension of policy during pandemic.” Five school board members voted to revoke the policy while three voted to keep it. Board Chair Jennifer Dube was not present for the meeting due to illness, she said.
“This was a policy that was put in place at the beginning of the pandemic that authorized the superintendent to have emergency executive authority,” said Board Vice Chair Kristen Giantonio. “The policy can only be terminated by a full board vote and when the emergency policies are extended by the governor, the board also has to vote to extend it to match the governor’s extension.”
Gianotonio said she felt that district staff had done a “commendable job” putting policies and actions into work to protect students and that vaccines were widely available throughout the state. She said she felt the new state screen and stay policy adopted by the school was working effectively.
“I understand that the board is capable of making decisions,” said board member Karen Vibert. “...In an emergency, it can be very difficult to get a quorum of the board together to make a decision and vote on something and that’s where this is important. I will not support getting rid of this.”
Board member Shelby Pons asked if the board had the authority to give or take away powers the governor may be giving to superintendents. Giantonio said the motion had nothing to do with what the governor had proposed and that gubernatorial executive orders were still being followed and would continue to be followed regardless of a board vote.
“Right now, the only executive order that’s still in place for schools to my understanding is the mask mandate,” said Giantonio. “Right now that executive order is currently in place until February 2022.”
Board member Eric Carlson said he felt the definition of emergencies had been expanded over the last few years and that adequate policies were in place to handle the pandemic and no emergency management order at the local level was still needed.
Board member Chris Wilson said that the superintendent’s authority emanated from the state as demonstrated by state court cases and not necessarily from the board of education or municipality.
The vice chair said the policy was implemented before a lot of covid policies and governor executive orders had been put in place. Giantonio said she felt Wilson had reiterated why she felt the policy was no longer needed.
“There are certain powers given to the superintendent by the state and those will remain in place. This policy doesn’t make sense anymore,” she continued.
Among some of the powers previously allowed to the superintendent under the BPS policy included the ability to temporarily waive board policies or provisions of board policies as the superintendent deemed necessary to comply with guidance from health and governmental authorities for effective responses.
Another power allowed for lawful actions to be taken for the continuation of public education, health and safety such as adjustments to curriculum and provision of alternate educational options, school calendar modifications, limitations to district property access and adjustments to delivery of school-provided meals.
Another power allowed the superintendent to enter financial contracts without board approval for services such as sanitation, supplies, equipment and services related to covid-19 emergencies. The superintendent was also allowed to close any school facility without board approval in the event of emergency circumstances.