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Policy changes ratified at U-46 board meetings

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved changes to its policies under Section 6 (Instruction) and Section 8 (School/Community Relations).
  The Section 6 changes were approved by a 6-1 vote, board member Jeanette Ward voting no, on Monday, March 4. The Section 8 changes were approved 5-0, board members Phil Costello and Veronica Noland were absent, on Monday, March 11.
  Ward thanked the administration and board for making some revisions to Section 6 proposed changes, most notably  regarding the district’s definition of gifted students as well as removing “global society” for “globally,” based off of February discussions, but she still opposed some requirements for drug education for kindergarten students and educating students on the “role of labor unions.”
  The board agreed with Ward’s suggestion to remove “global society” for “globally” under Code 6.165 (Dual Language Program) and Code 6.210 (Instructional Materials).
  Regarding gifted, the district proposed changing Code 6.130 (Programs for Gifted Students) to codify the definition of gifted as “students who perform or who show the potential to perform at significantly advanced levels of accomplishment when benchmarked against local norms and their optimal development arises from differentiated educational experiences.”
  The phrase “when benchmarked against local norms” could mean that some U-46 schools would have higher standards and others lower standards, and Ward said the danger was “the definition of gifted doesn’t really have a definition” which board member Sue Kerr agreed.
  Kerr and board member Melissa Owens asked if that language was necessary. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the district’s practices, which still include local norms, would not change.
  Luis Rodriguez, assistant attorney, said at the March 4 meeting regarding gifted that “there’s a lot of flexibility we have” and “we’ve removed that language entirely” to now state the administration will “develop guidelines governing Gifted Student Programs consistent with Board Policies” and state law.
  Ward said: “I would like to say how much I extremely appreciate that the board worked with me and also the administration has worked with me to make some of the changes I suggested, especially the changing of global society to globally and also the changes… about the gifted students and our policy there. I want to emphasize how much I appreciate the changes that were made there.”
  However, Ward said she could not vote for the policy because of other portions.
  “Some of the things I disagree with are, for example, drug education in kindergarten. I understand that’s required by the state, but I think that’s just ridiculous,” Ward said and regarding union education she added: “If we’re going to include stuff like that then how about we include the role of capitalism and producing the most powerful economic engine the world has ever known.”
  Several changes to Section 8 were discussed including one to Code 8.080 (Public Donations and Gifts to Schools) which Rodriguez said adds language to “ensure a case by case review procedure exists for gifts and/or donations.”
  Noting “equity” language in the policy, Ward asked if a donor were “very generous” for an example to build a football field at one school “would that be viewed upon negatively because other schools don’t have a brand new football field.”
  Rodriguez said he wasn’t “sure it would be viewed negatively” saying the added language stated “these procedures shall ensure each gift and/or donation is reviewed on a case by case basis pursuant to this policy,” and  “that language would allow us to contemplate and review such a request to make sure that if it is approved, it is approved appropriately.”
  Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, said a donation is “either accepted, or it’s not accepted” and “we would have to accept what the donor’s intention is… if we choose to accept it.”
  Costello asked “who makes that decision” to which Sanders said “the board does.”
  A change to Code 8.092 (Free Admission for Senior Citizens) adds language “clarifying that free admission for senior citizens is for events that occur in U-46 facilities,” according to Luis Rodriguez.
  A change to Code 8.512 (Public Participation at Board Meetings) cross-referenced the board’s guidelines which were changed in 2016, both Costello and Ward voting against the change at the time. The board’s majority changed the guidelines limiting public comments to two minutes instead of the regular three minutes and relegating them to the end of the meeting if more than 20 people sign up to speak, this stemming from three straight meetings when large numbers of public speakers came out in opposition to the district and the board majority regarding a change in practice.
  Kerr asked if the change would allow future boards to change its guidelines without changing policy which Miguel Rodriguez said that was “correct.” He added: “It’s a lot easier to change the guidelines than it is to change the policy.”
  The policy also states the board’s president, currently Donna Smith, will rule on questions of public participation, and Ward asked: “Wouldn’t it be the board will rule on questions of public participation?”
  “I think it just says the board president because the board president is usually the one who… calls things out of order or keeps the rest of the audience quiet while people are speaking,” said Smith who added it would bar the board “from saying Mr. or Ms. President, is this appropriate?”
  Prior to the vote, Ward noted she was “very opposed” to the 2016 change to limit the public comments, but she could vote for the policy change because it was just a cross-reference added. She said: “I get that I’m not voting on that (2016 change), so I am going to vote yes with that understanding.”
  A last minute change to the policy was also made the night of the vote, that coming to Code 8.015 (News Media Relations). Ward noted the policy language which states the district “will make all appropriate information and materials available to support for accurate media coverage,” and she asked “who determines what is accurate?”
  Sanders said it’s “just to make sure we’re providing, being transparent with the media and the public about what happens at the board meetings.”
  Board member John Devereux said: “It’s just saying we want to provide comprehensive and thorough information to the media so there can be accurate reporting, so I think it’s good to keep in.”
  Owens said she wasn’t sure “if accurate is my favorite word” but agreed it should be kept in.
  Ward suggested moving the word accurate with the policy instead saying “will make all appropriate and accurate information and materials available to support media coverage” which would make it “clearer that it means we’re being accurate.” Kerr agreed and Owens said “thank you, it sounds much better that way,” and the board agreed to that change.




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