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Coleman School Board Reaffirms Intent For Open Communications

Following through on their focus on keeping lines of communication open between the school board, staff and public, Coleman School Board last month rejected policy changes proposed by professional policy consulting firm, NEOLA, in favor of their old policy. The proposed changes would have mandated that all communications between staff and board members would be handled through the District Administrator. The policy approved for first reading provides for complaints from staff about the District Administrator to go directly to a board member and from there to the proper personnel committee.

At the board meeting on Monday, Dec. 16 they made that decision official by accepting the first reading of a policy which declares:

“The Board of Education desires to maintain open channels of communication between itself and staff. The Board of Education places great importance on the role of all school personnel as communicators of the total school program to students, parents and citizens. All employees are urged to recognize their role as ambassadors of the schools by making every effort to be well informed. To that end, the Board will inform staff of issues and decisions in a timely manner through the District Administrator.”

The policy goes on to state that the board does not wish unnecessary barriers erected “between itself and members of the professional staff or between and among residents and parents in the school district and students in the school. The Board values the free interchange of ideas as desirable in the school system. There should be no barriers to the free and open flow of ideas among personnel at every level except that of matters on personal compensation which will be communicated only through the recognized chain of command (employee - supervisor/principal - district administrator - board.)”

All formal, written communications from staff members to the Board are to be submitted through the district administrator, but the policy states, “This procedure is not intended to deny any staff member the right to appeal to the board on important matters through recognized procedures.”

A second clause in the policy states that if an individual staff member contacts an individual board member about a concern involving the district administrator, the board member should refer the matter at once to the appropriate personnel committee. The complainant will have the option to meet with the committee,and the committee, if necessary will address the issue with the administrator.

The policy also recognizes, under “Social Interaction,” that both staff and board members share a keen interest in the schools and education in general, “and it is to be expected that when they meet at social affairs and other functions, they will informally discuss such matters as educational trends, issues, and innovations, and general activities of the district. However, it states, “...since individual board members have no special authority except when they are convened at a legal meeting of the Board or vested with special authority by board action, discussions between staff and Board members of personalities or personnel grievances will be considered to be unethical conduct.”

The board also adopted without change a second reading of a revised policy that covers handling of suggestions, comments or complaints from members of the public regarding school programs or staff. The preamble states:

“Any person or group, other than members of the staff covered by the terms of a negotiated agreement, having a legitimate interest in the operations of this District shall have the right to present a request, suggestion, or complaint concerning District personnel, the program, or the operations of the District. At the same time, the Board of Education has a right to protect the staff from unnecessary harassment. It is the intent of this policy to provide the means for judging each public complaint in a fair and impartial manner and to seek a remedy where appropriate. Requests, suggestions, or complaints made by District staff members are covered by Policy 3122/4122.

“It is the desire of the Board to rectify any misunderstandings between the public and the District by direct discussions of an informal type among the interested parties. It is only when such informal meetings fail to resolve the differences, shall more formal procedures be employed.

“Any requests, suggestions, or complaints reaching the Board, Board members, and the administration shall be referred to the District Administrator for consideration. Any individual presenting such a matter shall be provided with a copy of this policy.”

There are exceptions if the complaint involves involves suspected child abuse, substance abuse, or any other serious allegation which may require investigation or inquiry by school officials prior to approaching the professional staff member.

Policies prohibiting bullying between members of “the school community - staff, students, etc., as well as those who contractor to do business with the school, are prohibited, and disciplinary action for harassment can include termination.

Bullying between students, or by a third party against a student, is also prohibited, whether on school property or at functions or activities sponsored by the school. Penalties depend on severity, and can include suspension or expulsion of students and “appropriate action” against any third party “who engages in harassment against our students.”

Prohibited actions include retaliating against a person who has made a report or filed a complaint alleging unlawful harassment, or who has participated as a witness in a harassment investigation, filing a malicious or knowingly false report or complaint of unlawful harassment, and, for persons responsible - disregarding, failing to investigate adequately or delaying investigation of allegations of unlawful harassment.

Bullying is defined as unlawful harassment when one or more persons systematically and chronically inflict physical hurt of psychological distress on one or more students or employees, if it is based upon sex, race, color, national origin, religion or disability - characteristics protected by federal civil rights laws. It is defined as "any unwanted and repeated written, verbal or physical behavior, including any threatening, insulting or dehumanizing gesture, by an adult or student, “severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment, cause discomfort or humiliation, or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance. Examples listed include teasing, threats, intimidation, stalking, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, physical violence, theft, public humiliation or destruction of property.

Allegations of sexual or other harassment against a student are to be filed within 30 days after the incident occurred,with any teacher, principal, or other district employee at the student’s school, including the district administrator or administrative office staff office staff. Any person receiving a complaint must report to the District’s Compliance Officer or other designee within two days.

At the Dec. 16 meeting the board officially adopted revised policies on student records, handling public requests, suggestions or complaints, school visitors, and attendance at school events, and a new policy governing animals on school property. First readings of those policies were presented at the November board meeting. Full texts of all policies are available on the school web site.


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