Board reviews policies

NEW CUMBERLAND – A newly revised policy of the Hancock County Board of Education encourages public participation at board meetings, but not long-winded exchanges with board members.

Superintendent Suzan Smith said the policy revision, which is open for public comment through May 9, is the result of guidance from the West Virginia School Board Association, not any particular incident or problem.

“Any policy needs to be reviewed annually, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Smith said.

Earlier this week, the board approved 24 policies for re-adoption with minor or no changes – everything from the philosophy of Hancock County Schools and school board effectiveness to board member compensation and superintendent duties.

“This will be ongoing. We have quite a few,” Smith said, noting the board updates the district policy manual every year to keep it current with new state laws and state education policies.

Some of the suggested language came from legal experts who spoke at a recent workshop of the West Virginia School Board Association, she said.

“It’s basically the proper procedures and protocols,” she said.

Policies being recommended for revisions are those governing conflicts of interest, pediculosis (head lice) and public participation at board meetings.

“The public is always welcome to attend meetings of the board and will be given limited time, at regular meetings, to voice opinions or express concerns,” the policy says. Public participation at special meetings is not permitted.

People wishing to address the board, either as an individual or on behalf of a group, should let the superintendent know ahead of time, preferably at least three working days before the meeting, but no less than 15 minutes before the start of the meeting.

Parents with a particular concern or problem are encouraged to seek a remedy at the school/department level first and then at the central office level, according to one of the policy revisions.

Callers at meetings are permitted 10 minutes if speaking as part of a delegation or five minutes if speaking individually. Those addressing the board also are encouraged to submit their remarks in writing so that they can be made part of the record.

“The general rule is: Do not hamper the public from speaking,” board President Jerry Durante said. “Don’t do anything to stifle it, but you have to be responsible with the amount of time allotted. You can’t put up with any disruptive conduct.”

Durante, as board president, is responsible for running the meetings, and callers usually are scheduled as the second item of business. When hearing callers, Durante routinely asks them if they plan to discuss a specific person by name. If so, such a matter would be discussed in executive session, he said.

Otherwise, callers may bring up any topic they want, he said.

The revised policy also states, “In no case shall members of the board … hold any discussion, debate, deliberation or give any direct response to delegations addressing the board …, other than to thank such delegations for presenting their information … .”

Durante said although he sometimes responds to callers, the policy is meant to prevent the board from giving a premature answer or making a premature commitment.

The policy, which replaces one adopted in 2006, states that issues presented by callers may be addressed at the next board meeting under unfinished business. It also states, “All persons shall speak with proper decorum and respect.”

The revised policy on conflicts of interest, first adopted in 2008, adds language about monetary interest, gifts and bribes. It also adds the sentence, “It is also unlawful for any employee to receive, solicit or accept any gift, presents or thing of value to influence that individual in the vote for adoption of instructional resources, learning technology, print or electronic, or any combination thereof.”

The head lice policy replaces in its entirety a policy last revised in 1992.

All three revisions will be added to the board policy manual after the public comment period expires on May 9.