By Tom Tolen /

The Brighton Board of Education voted 4-2 at a special meeting on Wednesday to reject a proposal by Trustee John Conely that it return Scranton Middle School to in-school learning starting Thursday.

It was Conely who called for the special meeting, with the support of fellow Trustee Bill Trombley. The rules allow a special meeting to be called if two board members request it. After a lengthy discussion, Conely and Trombley voted in favor of returning Scranton immediately to a classroom setting, while board members Alicia Reid, Ken Stahl, Angela Krebs, and Board President Roger Myers voted no. In his motion, Conely also wanted control of any future decisions on whether to close schools to be by the board, rather than the superintendent, emphasizing it was not a criticism of Superintendent Matthew Outlaw.

In pressing his case, Conely said that Maltby Intermediate School has actually had more COVID cases than Scranton, “with 87 cases to date,” while saying Scranton has had 60 cases, arguing that if any school should have gone virtual it should have been Maltby. It was pointed out that Highlander Way Middle School in Howell is also currently virtual through this Friday, the 21st. Conely also said that there have been other factors besides just COVID in Scranton' high absenteeism rate, including the flu and colds.

Stating that Scranton is above federal standards when it comes to ventilation and air filter changing, Conely said, “I believe the risk is far less with them in school.” Myers said that he didn't support going virtual for personal reasons, saying his daughter, a Scranton student, “hated the idea she was going to go virtual for the next nine days. I have to look at what’s best for all our students,” Myers said.

A commenter at call-to-the-public who identified herself as Kitty Shelton, a Scranton teacher, said that she is in full support of the temporary switch to virtual learning. ”We’ve had 14-15 staffers out…We’ve had a terrible time obtaining subs, we’ve had teachers teaching from home who have COVID,” Shelton said. She added that since the school went virtual, there has been a 99% attendance rate, and the students at home have been very on board.

Parent Mike Cosgrove said the kids need to be back in school and chastised the district for the practice of constantly changing from in-classroom to virtual, saying it was deleterious to the well-being of students.

Scranton has been in a virtual learning setting since last Friday, Jan. 14th, and is scheduled to continue virtual until Jan. 28th. Initially, Superintendent Matthew Outlaw said, the reason for going virtual was the high absentee rates caused by the COVID pandemic and the Omicron variant. Outlaw said that student attendance at Scranton had recently been averaging only 75% and the rates were expected to go even higher in the coming days. Outlaw asked, rhetorically, “The question becomes at what point does it become disruptive to learning?" He also said that staff absences due to COVID and other illnesses had been averaging up to 16% per day.

Conely said his motion was not rigid and he’d be willing to add a couple of days to the process of returning to in-school learning which would have moved it back to next Monday, Jan. 24th. However, Board President Roger Myers called Conely’s proposal “micromanaging” since the board would be taking away a decision that is currently the sole responsibility of the superintendent. Conely responded that his proposal is in support of Outlaw, not against him, saying, “This is unfair for anyone to be (solely) burdened with that task.” Conely also said he believes that “The risks (for students) are far less with them in school….The children aren’t becoming deathly ill from Omicron.” Despite Conely’s urgings for a return to in-school, the board voted to keep the current virtual learning platform in place through the 28th.

Myers finally "called the question” to force a stop to discussion, but allowed Conely to give a final statement. But when Conely paused after a couple of minutes, Myers said it was time to vote, although Conely said he wasn’t finished. At that point, someone in the audience started yelling, saying Myers wasn’t allowed to "shut him down.” Myers ordered the person to leave or he would have the police called in. A 5-minute recess was called at that point, during which Trustee Trombley claimed that in calling the question, Robert’s Rules of Order were not followed because the motion must be seconded, followed by a 2/3rds majority vote. However, Trombley did not bring up the matter again when the meeting resumed.

The next Brighton Board of Education meeting will be a workshop this coming Monday, Jan. 24th.