Updated 2/17/15, 9:15 AM and 10:05 AM; 3/7/15, 1:55 PM

Much of substance will be debated and decided at Tuesday’s School Board Workshop and Special Board Meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. (Get directions.) The focus will be on School Board Policies, and as concerned community members, we need to beware.

In this post, I’ll outline what you should know, what I expect to happen, and what I hope you’ll do between now and Tuesday morning. The actions taken at the next several Board meetings will have lasting and far-reaching consequences for how the Board and School District operate, how students and staff will be treated in school, and how the textbooks they use will be chosen.

Tuesday’s discussions will be divided into three parts:

  1. Policy 2520 – Intructional Materials and Resources (i.e. the textbook review process required by SB864) – Second Reading. Click here for background.
  2. Various School Board Policies – First Reading.
  3. Policy 1010 – Board-Superintendent Relationship – Discussion.

Policy 2520 – Intructional Materials and Resources – Second Reading

As a result of a new law passed by the Florida Legislature last year (SB864), the School Board is responsible to select, and for the content of, all textbooks. It may choose textbooks from a state-approved list, its own locally-selected list, or a combination of both. It must provide an opportunity for parental/community involvement in the process, and for a parent to object to adopted or to-be-adopted textbooks.

Policy 2520 sets forth how the Board will meet the requirements of SB864.

The public must be given two opportunities to provide input on proposed policies and policy changes before being voted on by the Board. The “first reading” of this policy took place at last month’s School Board Workshop on curriculum. Because this part of the agenda will take place as a Special Board Meeting, Board action (e.g. to make changes to or vote on the draft policy) can be taken by vote of the majority of members. You can read the draft policy, reflecting changes proposed by Board members last month, here.

I will use the word “textbooks” to mean all instructional materials covered by this policy.

These are some of the important elements of the policy:

  • The Superintendent is responsible for developing the “rubric of criteria to evaluate instructional materials to be reviewed” that is “quantitative in nature.”
  • The “Instructional Materials Review Process” is outlined in detail, as is the composition of 15 to 21 person “Instructional materials Review Committees” comprised of:
    • 1/3 teachers nominated by their principals;
    • 1/3 administrators and/or subject-matter experts nominated by the School District head of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction; and
    • 1/3 parents, community members or others with “content area knowledge and expertise” nominated by Board Members and the Superintendent.
  • “Expertise shall be understood to mean that a person serving on a Committee has developed skill and/or knowledge in the textbook adoption subject or content area based upon education and experience that would enable such person to be able to form an opinion in the subject or content area that would assist in the Committee’s review.”
  • The process by which a parent may object to adopted or to-be-adopted instructional materials will begin with an informal discussion between the parent and the principal, and provide three opportunities for the objecting parent to escalate an unsatisfactory decision:
    1. formal review by the relevant School Materials Review Committee appointed by the principal and comprised of at least seven people including at least one parent who is a member of the school’s School Advisory Committee (SAC);
    2. formal review by the District Materials Committee chaired by the Superintendent or his/her designee and comprised of eight additional people including a parent representative from the SAC from the school where the petition has been filed and a non-parent member of the community chosen from a list of interested persons; and
    3. public hearing before the School Board, whose decision will be final.

Depending on Board action, the policy will either go forward to a vote or, if changes are substantive be brought back for a first read of the revised policy, at the next Board meeting.

I don’t know which way it will go, but I am certain there will be considerable public comment and Board discussion, just as there was at the first reading last month. Hopefully public speakers and Board members will focus their comments on the policy itself, and not on the subject of Common Core or the possibility of textbook censorship, neither of which are relevant to the business at hand.

Once action on this policy is completed, the Special Meeting will be adjourned and the rest of the meeting will take place as a Board Workshop (aka Work Session), which is defined in the Board’s Bylaws as being:

… solely for the purpose of communicating information and general discussion. The Board shall take no formal action in a work session nor shall they agree to any decisions with respect to issues which may be brought forward at a regular or special Board meeting.

Various School Board Policies – First Reading

The District is proposing changes to 23 existing policies and one new policy. The public will have the opportunity to comment on each. These are some to be aware of:

Policy 0160 – Meetings – This part of the Bylaws governs how School Board meetings operate. With the business portion now starting at 5:30 p.m. and public comments being heard before each agenda item, community members have had to wait for hours to speak to the matter(s) of interest to them. Changes being proposed move public comments to the beginning of each meeting. In part:

The opportunity to be heard need not occur at the same meeting at which the Board takes official action on the proposition if the opportunity occurs at a meeting that is during the decision-making process and is within reasonable proximity in time before the meeting at which the Board takes the official action. This policy does not prohibit the Board from maintaining orderly conduct or proper decorum in a public meeting….

Any person who wishes to speak on a proposition on which the Board will take official action or during the public comments portion of the meeting, must, prior to the commencement of the proposition or public comment portion of the meeting, complete and submit a card in person, identifying the proposition to be addressed or whether it is part of public comments….

The presiding officer may: interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed comments unrelated to the proposition being considered or outside the scope of District business, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant; ….

This is a much-needed change which I fully support. It is sure to generate much public comment at Tuesday’s meeting.

Policy 2240 – Controversial Issues – This policy governs “the introduction and proper educational use of controversial issues in the instructional program.” Language is being proposed to address the Barron Collier Choir matter that was the subject of much controversy last year:

With respect to District co-curricular programs, if a matter arises in which a parent and/or student is concerned that songs or music to be performed are from a sacred tradition that the parent or student believes conflicts with the student’s deeply held religious beliefs, then that student will be allowed to be excused for that portion or the portions of the performance containing such sacred songs and music. However, the student will nevertheless be permitted to participate in all other aspects of the performance without incurring any penalty including any reduction in the performance grade or loss of credit for the performance or for the course generally.

See my posts “Support the School District’s compromise” and “Tonight’s show will go on, but a question and an issue remain.”

This proposed change will not satisfy those who want a complete opt-out option, so I expect many public comments on this matter.

Policy 8350 – Confidentiality – This operational policy governs the use and treatment of confidential information in the custody of the School District. The proposal adds “Limitations on Collection and Retention of Certain Information” including “information on the political affiliation, voting history, religious affiliation, or biometric information of a student or a parent or sibling of a student” and states that “No report or record relative to a student which includes a copy of a student’s fingerprints will be maintained by the District.”

I don’t think this should be a controversial change, but it is possible some may not feel it goes far enough. It’s sure to generate some discussion.

Policy 9140 – School Board Subcommittees – The District is proposing the deletion of this policy that was adopted in 2010. It provided for the establishment by the School Board of subcommittees focused on education and operations. The purpose of the subcommittees was “to facilitate community understanding of District functions and to gather community input” and to “give the administration an opportunity to bring forward issues and initiatives for community dialog.” These subcommittees have not been active during the current superintendent’s term.

It is possible that community members may speak against deleting this policy.

Policy 1010 – Board-Superintendent Relationship – Discussion

In this part of the meeting, the Board will discuss its existing policy, in anticipation of a first reading at the March 10 Board meeting.

There is no indication why this policy is on the agenda, but I suspect that one or more Board members would like to propose changes. That would be consistent with the “Contract with Collier County, Florida Voters” signed by the two newest Board members and drafted by a frequently-critical public speaker at Board meetings.

By signing that document, those Board members promised to “direct the Board attorney to … declare the Superintendent’s contract extension … as void” and to “[modify] the existing ‘termination for cause’ and ‘termination with-out cause’ provisions [of the Superintendent’s contract] to give a simple Board majority the flexibility needed to incentivize and hold the Superintendent accountable.”

For more on the “contract,” see my posts here, here, here (“SWFL Citizens Alliance wants control of the School Board”) and here (“Dr. Patton’s contract extension”).

If that is, in fact, why this matter is on the agenda, I sincerely hope the other three Board members quickly put it to rest and refuse to bring any changes to it forward. Enough is enough!

What I hope you will do

Each of the policies to be discussed at the meeting should be accessible through the Meeting Agenda, although Mac and iOS users may have trouble. If so, call the District Communications Department at (239) 377–0180 and ask them to email them to you.

Once again, I ask you to let your voice be heard. Let the School Board members know you are paying attention, what you think about any of the proposed policy changes and how you want them to vote. Don’t let a very vocal but small group led by the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance, Libertarian Party of Collier County and Parents ROCK disrupt the way our District is run.

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo – curatoka@collierschools.com
School Board Member Erika Donalds – donale@collierschools.com
School Board Member Kelly Lichter – lichteke@collierschools.com
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague – spraguju@collierschools.com
School Board Member Roy Terry – terryro@collierschools.com

Note: The discussion of Policy 2520, above, misstated the number of times a policy must be previewed before a Board vote. A vote can occur after two “readings,” not three. In addition, this post was revised on March 7, 2015, to delete the implication that officers of the Libertarian Party of Collier Coutny had spoken at any of the book review workshops.

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