Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 14, 2012

Complaint policy gets revised

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — The policy committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education has recommended changes to the complaint procedure policy to make it conform to the teacher's contract and make it easier to understand.

Those changes include specifying the time period for each step in the policy and requiring written complaints be made within 30 days of knowledge of an incident. The policy currently does not have a time limit, but the teacher's contract does.

Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle told the policy committee, "If you wait very long to make a complaint, it can be difficult to research and investigate."

Richard Janeway, 2nd District Representative, agreed, but did not want to discourage parents from bringing serious issues to light even though the 30-day period had passed. VanWinkle said the time period would refer to when the parent first learned of the incident, not when it actually took place.

If a complaint is not resolved after a meeting with the principal or immediate supervisor, step two calls for a conference with the complainant and teacher in an attempt to resolve the complaint. The committee specified that if the complaint was still unresolved after 30 calendar days, it would move to the next step.

The principal would have 2 school days to attempt to resolve the complaint to the satisfaction of all parties. If either party of the complaint is not satisfied with the solution, they may request in writing the complaint be reviewed by the director of schools. That is to be done within 24 hours. The principal would then have two school days to deliver the case record to the director.

The director is to confer with all parties to the complaint within 30 calendar days, and if unable to resolve the complaint to the satisfaction of all parties within 10 days, either party may request the director send a report of the investigation and findings to the board of education.

No time frame was included for how long the board would have to act on the request.

Janeway said, "If we put a 30-day limit on it, depending on when the request comes in, we'd be looking at a special-called meeting to say if we're willing to have a hearing or not."

Josh Stone, 4th District representative, "You risk parents feeling like we're stringing them along, whereas if there is a set number of days, they would know the worst-case scenario."

Janeway said he felt it better to be nonspecific about the time the board would have to act because of the time limits on setting agendas and board meetings.

While the policy states it applies to teachers, VanWinkle said the procedure in the policy is also used for complaints involving non-certified school personnel. That is done through administrative procedures, and the committee, after discussion, agreed not to change the wording of the policy at this time to include all school personnel.

"We treat them all the same," VanWinkle said. "Every employee needs this due process."

Other changes recommended include removing policy 5.502, complaints and grievances procedures for citizens, as the procedures are outlined in policy 5.501.

The introductory paragraph was moved to policy 5.501, which requires complaints and grievances from parents and citizens and students be made in writing.

The committee also recommended policy 6.305, student concerns, complaints and grievances, be removed because policy 5.501 already outlined the complaint procedure. The procedure outlined in 6.305 is also different from 5.501, and the 5.501 policy is the one included in the student handbook.

Discrimination and harassment grievances of students are handled differently, and information on that procedure was moved from policy 6.305 to 6.304, student discrimination, harassment and bullying, intimidation. Complaints may be made with a complaint manager, usually the school guidance counselor or Tim Claflin, school safety coordinator, or with any teacher or adult employed in the school. In that situation, the employee is to inform a complaint manager. Within 24 hours of the complaint, the manager will notify the student's parents and the principal, who will inform the director of schools. The parents or guardian will be allowed to attend an interview of the student in a non-intimidating environment, and that is to be done within five days. If the parent or guardian does not attend, the student may choose another adult to act as an advocate.

If allegations are substantiated, immediate and appropriate corrective or disciplinary action is to be taken.

The committee also recommended a change to policy 1.806, advertising and distribution of materials in the schools, to allow for the bus advertising approved by the board at the October meeting, and to allow for sports booster advertising at ball fields and gymnasiums, which were not allowed under the policy. The recommended policy allows, "Any advertisement program approved by the board of education and following procedures established by the director."

A change to the student wellness policy to address changes in federal and state laws was approved and use of electronic mail policy was changed to state messages "shall not be sent that contain material a reasonable person would consider obscene or offensive, or that promote illegal or unethical activity." Previously, the policy stated emails were not to be racist or sexist.

The policy recommendations must be approved in two separate readings by the board of education before taking effect. The policies reviewed by the committee will be part of the agenda for the Nov. 29 meeting.