BCSC discusses proposed policy updates

Gina Pleak

The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. school board recently held a work session as an experimental way to improve its discussions around proposed policy updates.

The school board held the session on July 17 prior to its regular board meeting. Only a couple of members of the public chose to attend the session.

“This is just in reaction to us as a new board, figuring out how we work together and provide input and understand each others’ perspectives on policies as they’re ever-changing,” said board president Nicole Wheeldon.

An earlier docket of updates resulted in much debate among both the school board and members of the public.

Wheeldon said that the decision to hold the special meeting came after several board training sessions held over the past few weeks, with board members agreeing that a work session might be a good format for policy discussions.

No official decisions were made at the work session. During the time, the board discussed a few select topics in the policy update that multiple members had questions or concerns about.

One such subject was suspension and expulsion.

The current policy states that the school board will hear all expulsion appeals, but the drafted update states that expulsion appeals will be heard by Bartholomew County Circuit or Superior Court.

The change was advised by a representative at NEOLA based on his understanding of what other school corporations are doing, said Superintendent Jim Roberts.

However, board members generally indicated that they would prefer to hear expulsion appeals.

“Would parents be less likely to look to appeal an expulsion if we send it over to county court?” said board member Logan Schulz. “… I’m trying not to put an unnecessary hurdle.”

Board member Dale Nowlin had similar concerns.

“Some people would get to the court without a lawyer,” he said. “Other people would go with. And we’re creating an inequity issue.”

The board also discussed a proposed update to the policy on reporting student progress. According to the draft, the policy is being revised to address current legislative requirements “regarding the school corporation’s responsibility and manner of informing parents of their student’s scores on statewide assessments.”

“After each school receives the results of student statewide assessment scores in schools which conduct parent/teacher conferences, a teacher who is currently teaching a student shall discuss the student’s statewide assessment results with the parent at the next parent/teacher conference,” the draft states.

There are other differences as well. For instance, the current policy — as posted in BCSC’s online board policy manual — states that the system for reporting student progress will include written reports and parent-teacher conferences. Additionally, the superintendent, in conjunction with appropriate staff members, will develop administrative guidelines for reporting student progress to parents that:

A. Ensure that both student and parent receive ample warning of a pending grade of “failure” or one that would adversely affect the student’s status;

B. Enable the scheduling of parent-teacher conferences at such times and in such places as will ensure the greatest degree of participation by parents;

C. Specify the issuance of report cards at intervals of not more than nine weeks;

D. Ensure a continual review and improvement of methods of reporting student progress to parents.

In contrast, the draft states that the system for reporting student progress will include written reports but does not specify that parent-teacher conferences must be included.

The list of administrative guidelines for reporting progress is still included in the draft but is limited to items A and B.

This led to some discussion between board members of what the school corporation’s current practices are, in regards to parent-teacher conferences.

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Gina Pleak said that the school corporation tries to meet with all parents at the elementary level in the fall, whether it’s in person or some other means of contact.

“The second semester was always an option if the parent wanted to meet or if there was something with a child we were really worried about,” she said. “But it was always open, because the whole thing is, any time a parent truly wants to meet with a teacher, the teacher is to make time to be available. And any time the teacher wants to (meet), we’re not waiting for a conference to make it happen. You reach out to the parent to meet with them.”

She added that in her experience as a parent, there was a special conference night at the middle school that involved presentations by students. At the high school, there was a time to meet teachers at the beginning of the year, and then parents could request to meet with individual teachers throughout the rest of the year.

Procedures for conferences may vary from school to school, she added.

Roberts said that because the policy language states that “all appropriate staff members” must comply with the progress reporting system, including parent-teacher conferences in the system would mean that they are required, which is not currently true for all grade levels.

Requiring conferences may lead to collective bargaining discussions if more time is needed to hold conferences, he added. At present, the school corporation has a waiver process where its schools can request to use existing teacher work days for parent-teacher conferences.

Moving forward, it might be good to discuss the policy update with BCSC administrators as they work to refine it, said Roberts.

At the regular board meeting, Roberts gave a brief run-through of the docket of policy changes as a second reading.

Later, during the time for public comment, Mark Niemoeller criticized one of the proposed updates, which would revise the board’s policy on programs for high ability students to align with current language used in state statutes.

The existing policy states that the school board will develop a plan to provide “appropriate educational experiences to high ability students” in grades K-12 within the school corporation, and the plan must include certain components. These include “a student identification system that is multifaceted and includes performance based assessment, potential based assessment, and alternative assessment.”

The proposed update replaces this with “a student identification system’s multifaceted assessments to ensure students not identified by traditional assessments due to economic disadvantage, cultural background, underachievement, or disabilities are included.”

Niemoeller expressed concern about the term underachievement being included in this component.

“Now, the way I translate that is, the program for high ability students must include some low ability students,” he said. “To me, that seems inconsistent.”

He also expressed opposition to a section in the update that states that the plan for high ability students must include best practices to increase the number of participants who are from racial and ethnic groups that have been underrepresented in high ability student programs.

“If selecting high ability students is based on race, it is not based on ability,” said Niemoeller. “Again, the name of the program seems deceptive. Furthermore, selection based on race is racism. You can’t favor one race without discriminating against another. Furthermore, it’s the kind of affirmative action racism that the Supreme Court of the United States just ruled unconstitutional.”

Both the existing policy and the proposed update state that high ability students are those who “perform at or show potential for performing at an outstanding level of accomplishment in at least one (1) of the following domains: general intellectual, general creative, specific academic, technical and practical arts, visual and performing arts, and interpersonal” and are characterized by “exceptional gifts, talents, motivation and interests.”

Other topics in the current docket of policy updates and revisions include board approval of bylaws and policies, public comment, background checks, state law regarding transgender athletes, adjunct teacher permits, public hearings for collective bargaining, eLearning days and school resource officer training requirements.

“We’ll take the questions and the information (board members) provided and make some revisions and get that back out to them in a pretty quick period of time, because our next board meeting’s in three weeks, so we’ll want to make sure that they’ve had a chance to digest that and ask any other questions,” said Roberts. “And we’ll make those revisions public as well.”

He said in a previous interview that the policies will hopefully be approved at the board’s Aug. 7 meeting.

Monday’s board meeting also featured the first reading of policy updates in regards to purchasing and Teacher Appreciation Grants. Roberts said that these two readings may be approved on second reading at the next meeting, unless the board has more questions about them.