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HCAE proposes policy changes to review of parental complaints

HCAE proposes policy changes to review of parental complaints

Haywood County Association of Educators has put forth suggested amendments to the school board policy regarding parental inspection of and objection to instructional materials.

“We want to make sure that when instructional materials are brought before administration or the board of education, it’s a fair and equitable process across the board,” HCAE president Tara O’Laughlin told The Smoky Mountain News. “Of course, parents can have objections, but we would like teachers to be treated as professionals, weigh in, and have a more objective way for this to be done.”

The changes proposed by HCAE outline a process by which a complaint regarding instructional material is reviewed by a school-level committee made up of educators and administrators. Any determination made by this school-level committee can be appealed to the superintendent and finally to the board of education if the complainant is not satisfied with the school-level or district-level committees’ determinations. 

The proposed changes to board policy came in response to the recent pulling of “Dear Martin”  from a 10th grade English class at Tuscola High School. Because convening a committee to review parental objections to instructional material is currently optional, there was no recourse for input from educators after Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte made the decision to pull the book. 

“These amendments will alleviate the subjective nature when instructional materials are brought into question,” O’Laughlin said in a presentation to the board of education at its April 4 meeting. “The amendments to this policy in no way take away the power from parents in regards to questioning instructional material. Rather it creates an equitable process by which materials will be reviewed.”

The process for parental objection to instructional material is laid out in Policy 3210. First, parents have a right to inspect all instructional materials, except for tests or assessments. The process for parental objection to instructional materials in the current policy involves written objection submitted to the principal of the school. Then the principal may establish a committee to review the objection. 

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If the principal or the committee determines that any material violates constitutional or other legal rights of the parent or student, the principal or the committee shall either remove the material from instructional use or accommodate the particular student and parent. 

This is where HCAE is proposing changes to the policy. The proposed policy updates say that upon receiving a parental complaint, the principal shall forward the complaint to a Building Level Committee. This committee will be made up of one media specialist, three educators in related fields, two administrators and two students. This committee is then charged with examining the complaint, surveying professional reviews of the instructional material in question, determining the extent to which the material supports the curriculum, discussing the material and preparing a then report of findings and determination. It will ten give copies of this report to the principal and the complainant within 20 days of the complaint being filed. 

If the complainant is not satisfied with the committee’s determination, they may appeal to the superintendent. The superintendent will then convene a similar committee that will follow the same determination process. 

If the disagreement continues, the parent may then appeal to the board of education. The board of education will forward the complaint to a Community Committee to review the complaint and the material again. The Board of Education shall make a final determination within 20 business days after receiving the Community Committee’s written report. 

“The changes proposed to 3210 are supported by an ever-growing number of signatures to the petition being circulated throughout the county. Not only from a plethora of educators, but community leaders as well,” said O’Laughlin. “Teachers in Haywood County deserve the trust and respect within our classroom and the materials we choose. Our students deserve due process and a fair and equitable system in place if our professionalism is brought into question.”

O’Laughlin said the policy updates are “commonplace in most states and counties.” In The Smoky Mountain News’ four-county coverage area, each school district has policies aligning with that of current HCS board policy under which a principal may establish a committee to review objections. Buncombe County School Board has policy aligning with the proposed updates from HCAE. Asheville City School Board has a policy similar to that of current HCS policy, with the option to convene a committee similar to that in proposed policy changes suggested by HCAE. 

All proposed policy changes are presented to the board of education during public meetings by Associate Superintendent Dr. Trevor Putnam and are considered by the board prior to adoption. The next Haywood County Schools Board of Education meeting is May 9. Find the petition with proposed policy changes from HCAE at tinyurl.com/3d5ur26h or visit the HCAE Facebook page. 

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