AURORA | The Aurora Public Schools board of education scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss a dispute between superintendent Rico Munn and the Aurora Education Association that boiled over at last week’s board meeting, but on Monday evening announced that the meeting had been canceled.
“Board members have decided to take a step back and work collaboratively to resolve any outstanding questions or concerns,” the board said in a statement. “Board members are committed to focusing on their work at hand and continuing to move the district forward.”
The dispute stems from a letter that the Aurora Education Association board of directors sent to the school board in advance of its Feb. 16 meeting alleging that Munn had “forced through and rushed major changes” regarding students’ education this semester and had not consulted the union since before winter break.
The letter claimed that Munn is “uninterested in anything other than getting students back in school as quickly as possible” and was not receptive to teacher concerns. The letter asked the board to resume control of deciding what the learning model would be, as it did in the fall semester.
It also asked the board to ensure that Fridays will remain asynchronous learning days for the rest of the semester in response to an announcement from Munn that the district would consider changing the schedule after spring break to give students more classroom time.
Fridays have been asynchronous since the beginning of the semester, with teachers using them to lesson plan and to meet with students one-on-one. In its letter, AEA said that asynchronous Fridays are “vital” to teachers this year since they are now planning both online and in-person teaching lessons, increasing their workload.
The district, on the other hand, said it was concerned about low student engagement on Fridays.
“Fridays have been an important part of our strategy to plan for instructional supports for fully remote students,” Munn said in a Feb. 8 message to families about APS’ plans for the rest of the school year. “We are, however, concerned about lower student attendance and engagement on Fridays. Over the next several weeks, we will explore options to increase student engagement on Fridays and make a decision to be announced prior to Spring Break.”
A discussion about the letter took place at Tuesday’s board meeting. Board member Marques Ivey said that the board had been inundated with “email after email” from teachers asking if they would still have a planning period.
Munn called the letter “offensive” and said that it grossly misinterpreted a number of things. He said that the district has been reaching out to AEA and to teachers.
AEA president Bruce Wilcox addressed the board at the meeting, saying that the time on Friday was crucial to ensure that students’ needs are met by having well-planned lessons.
“The quality of the instruction I give is directly linked to the amount of plan time I have,” he said. “When you take away the ability for teachers to have that time on Friday…you’ve doubled their plan load and you’ve asked them to do it in the same amount of time or slightly more time than they had last year.”
On Wednesday, Munn fired back with an open letter of his own rebutting AEA’s claims, which he described as “dishonest and inappropriate.”
In the letter, which the district shared with the Sentinel, Munn said that the district has had regular meetings with AEA leadership and reached out to seek their input on asynchronous Fridays. AEA’s request that the board designate Fridays as asynchronous was unfair to students, Munn said.
He also vociferously pushed back against AEA’s claim that he is being selective with the data he uses to inform his decisions, which he called “the most personally offensive comments they have made about me in eight years.” He said that APS’ COVID-19 decisions have always been informed by guidelines from local and state health agencies and that the union simply did not like what it was hearing.
Wilcox told the Sentinel that he didn’t want to respond to each individual claim Munn made, but believed the letters pointed to a divide between Munn and the union that he hopes can be resolved.
“What I believe is that both sides aired their perception of what the current situation is,” he said. “I think they both believe the perception put forth in their letters, and that shows there is disconnect.”
Beyond being given a heads up that a special meeting had been scheduled, Wilcox said that he has not been in communication with the APS board.
“My hope is that we can somehow come together and work together to get past this,” he said.
The board’s website only says that the meeting is about a “personnel matter,” but board member Marques Ivey confirmed to the Sentinel on Monday morning that the meeting was scheduled to address the two letters and “figure out the best thing to do in terms of getting past this.”
Most personnel meetings take place in executive session, but Munn requested it be open to the public, district spokesperson Corey Christiansen confirmed.
Now that the meeting has been canceled, it is currently unclear if any further public discussion of the issue will take place.