Wednesday, February 9, 2011

School Board to School Council Members: "Sue You"

Imagine that you are a member of your local board of education. Ponder your responsibilities. Think about how you are going to enlist all of the help you are going to need in order for your school district to be successful. You can generally count on all of the principals and most of the teachers being on board, if for no other reason than it is their job. Most will be strong supporters of improving the schools.

But what about the parents?

When schools and parents work closely together we get the best results for the kids. We see that over and over again. It is an important attribute comon to the best public schools, charter schools, and private schools.

Think about what kind of message you'd want your school board to send to the parents who serve at the school council level. Are you all partners on the same team? Or do we only want parent involvement when its convenient? And what's the board's message to the parent and teacher council members when things go wrong?

Believe it or not, this issue was touched on yesterday in the Kentucky Court of Appeals during oral arguments. It was a question of who should be held responsible if a personnel matter at the school level brought allegations of wrong doing, such as the racial discrimination claim in Petrilli v Silberman.

While representing his clients, Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman and the Board of Education, attorney John McNeill argued yesterday that it was inappropriate to sue the superintendent or board. Instead, he suggested to the court that an aggreived person should sue ... individual school council members!?

Now, as I'm sure KSN&C readers know, school council members select their school's principal from a list of qualified candidates provided by the superintendent. In the case of teachers, council members are consulted before the principal selects. In both cases, the superintendent completes the hiring process. After that, the personnel responsibilities of school council members are a big honkin' ZERO. Nothing. School council members do not consult, advise, observe (formally), evaluate, or discipline any teacher or principal who gets out of line. They have no authority to do so whatsoever. So the suggestion that these are the folks who should be sued in such cases left me bewildered.

Wondering if I was the only person who found McNeill's argument to be stunning, I went looking for a second opinion from another attorney. I happened to find one who used to run the Kentucky Association of School Councils, Susan Weston.

Weston opines,
The school-based decision making statute, KRS 160.345(2)(f), says in so many words that school councils "shall not have the authority to recommend transfers or dismissals/" School councils have a specific role in hiring: they select principals and are consulted on other vacancies. They have no role with individual personnel once they are hired. They do not evaluate, do not set evaluation rules, do not discipline, and do not terminate. And, as the law I just quoted makes clear, they don't even get to recommend that employees be removed from their current positions. Since a council has no legal role at all in a process that leads to a principal ceasing to be principal, I am mystified about how a council could be sued over activity it could not

Yeah. What she said.

Now I'm betting that neither the superintendent or board of education got together to make this suggestion their unofficial policy or their legal gameplan. Tempting as it might be, I doubt our board members would really want council members to be held responsible for things beyond their control. Still, it is troubling to think that this argument is out there, before the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

What if the court agrees with McNeill? Who would want to serve on a school council then?

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