Guest Contributor, Cheryl Burge, Requests Board Policy Update

At last night board's meeting Cheryl Burge spoke to the board. I was impressed with her presentation and asked her if she would allow me to post her address here. She agreed. Here it is.



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Good evening,
In the three years that I have lived in Beaumont, I have had wonderful experiences and horrible experiences with the School District.   I moved here because Beaumont’s school system had a good reputation.  However, I have found that sentiment is shifting.  
I have tried to informally resolve issues for over a year.  As of this evening, most of them are still not resolved.  I do have the option to file a complaint with the State Department of Education, however I have resisted that approach since it will only bring bad press to our District.  I had hoped that the District Administration that I was dealing with would effect change and do the right thing for my child without formal written complaints.  It hasn’t happened.  As issues continue to arise, I feel I have no choice but to file formal complaints immediately just in case we can’t resolve them informally because the current policy states that you must start the complaint process within one week of the incident.  Although the Board policies have a stated intent to resolve issues at the lowest level, I have not found that this is embraced by everyone in the District’s employment.

It is easy to believe that my complaints are about insignificant issues, but that is not the case.  In hindsight I should have complained formally when there was gross discrimination against my child.  For example – last year my child’s class was going on a field trip.  To save money, the children were going to walk to the Library instead of being bussed.  When I reminded the school that my child’s disability prevents him from walking that distance, I was told that no one could push him in his wheelchair.  We were told to check him out of school when it was time for the field trip.  Then we could take him ourselves to the Library since it was a public place.  Clearly, this was a violation of his rights.  However the Board was never notified of this incident.  In fact, it appears that the Administration was not notified either.  I did not bring it up to the Administration at the time for fear of retaliation.  The District was in the middle of special education assessments for my child and I felt that filing a complaint would only harm my child’s education and ultimately the services he would or would not receive.  After the assessments were completed, I did bring up the issue, in writing.  I was told it was handled.  My assumption is that this incident would be shared with all of Administration to ensure that it didn’t happen to anyone else.  However in the last month, I was asked by an Administrator to explain the wheelchair incident that I repeatedly mentioned in previous emails.  She appeared genuinely upset by the situation that we encountered.  However I do not believe anything has been done to ensure this does not happen to anyone else.

I told you this story because it is such an obvious violation.  And even so, it was swept under the rug.  I am asking you to review your Board Policies and Administrative Regulations on Compliants.  Specifically I am speaking to BP and AR 1312.1. I want you to remember this situation when you review the complaint policy.  Remember that you cannot assume that either party will do the right thing.  The policy must clearly state what needs to happen and penalties or processes for when it does not happen.  Unfortunately the reality at the District is that some of us have lost faith.  We need to see action that shows us the Board is committed to upholding the statements in the Board Bylaws to “monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of Board Policies and hold the Superintendent and staff  to “uphold Board Policies.”

I know how difficult writing policies and procedures can be, especially when making sure policies are consistent with state laws and especially the Education Code.  I do this on a daily basis. And it seems like no matter how well you edit the policy, someone always finds an angle that was missed.  From experience, I have found that reading policies from different viewpoints helps to write a sound policy.  I am asking that you read AR 1312.1 three times.  The first time, read it as an administrator and the expectations the policy places on the Administrator.  Then read it as a Board Member, and the expectations the policy places on you as a Board Member.  Finally, read it as a parent of a student at this District.  Look at the ability for the process to be stalled, and the inability for a parent to move it forward.

I believe once you do that, you will understand why there is a recurrent theme among those who address the Board.  We have told you that we do not feel that the Administration is listening to us.  We have told you we want more involvement in our children’s education and decisions made that affect it.  We have told you that we have trust issues with actions taken or not taken.  

I have created a chart to help visualize the current complaint procedures outlined in AR 1312.1 and the steps that need to be taken by either the parent or the Administration.  If the administration and the parent follow the current policy, it will take at least three months to go from Step 1 to Step 4.  Once it is at Step 4, which is a decision made by the Board, there is no time limit.  In my experience, the Administration has failed to follow the process and has left me waiting for a meeting to complete Step 2.  So I am still only a quarter of the way through the process for an incident that began in September.  An administrator asked me how my complaint “would help my son.”  I was also told “there is no requirement to follow the Board Policy.”  I hope those comments were made to me out of frustration and do not reflect the Administration’s true intentions.  But even so, I am asking you to update the policy to include an expectation that the Administration will follow the timeline, or the step is forfeited.  Because the only way to help my son – or other parent’s children – is to have effective policies that resolve issues in a timely manner.  
Thank you.

Cheryl Burge