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Midland Park

Editor's Notebook: Proposed BOE Policy Changes

09/25/2013 08:48AM ● By Rebecca K. Abma

Highland School

Updates to the school district’s bylaws and policies were introduced at the Sept. 17 school board meeting. Changes to the bylaws include a definition of Core Curriculum Content Standards, broadening the definition of “parent” and posting supplemental items to the agenda online prior to meetings.

New polices introduced deal with private tutoring services, district issued technology and social media use by employees. Revised policies redefine smoking on school grounds and raises substitute teacher pay.  

A PDF of all of the new and revised policies are attached to this article. All will go up for a vote at the Oct. 15 BOE meeting, at which time the public will have an opportunity to comment.  

More Public Access

The Board introduced a change to the bylaws to post agenda appendix items on the district website, along with the agendas prior to meetings. One of the board’s goals for this year is to improve transparency and communications. Several parents have requested access to supplemental materials that are often referred to in meetings, but not shared.

Parent David Opderbeck, a law professor at Seton Hall, believes this violates the Sunshine Law/Open Public Meetings Act. Currently, attachments are only available to the public after meetings, through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.

The proposed changed to the bylaws introduced at the meeting reads:

 “The agenda posted online shall include any attachments, reports, or supplementary materials specifically referenced therein, with the exception of those that are confidential, privileged, or exempt from access under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.”

After much discussion, including concerns over additional work required to post the items online, possible confusion over draft copies that are later revised, disseminating too much information too soon, and that they aren’t legally mandated to share the information online, Policy Chair Tim Thomas changed the wording from “attachments, reports, or supplementary materials specifically referenced therein” to “appendices.”

The measure passed on introduction 6-to-3, with Trustees Robert Schiffer, Brian McCourt and Sandra Criscenzo opposed to the change.

Opderbeck expressed disappointment with the last minute edit, and said he is prepared to file a lawsuit if the board isn’t willinto to do what he believes the law requires. Nearby school districts in Ridgewood, Wyckoff and Waldwick post the attachments online, while Ramapo-Indian Hills, Northern Highlands and Paramus do not. 

New Policies Introduced

A new policy on tutoring services specifies that staff may not charge students for additional help during or immediately before or after the school day. Teachers may enter into privately contracted tutoring agreements with parents, however paid tutoring may not take place on school grounds. An existing policy regarding tutoring and coaching was also updated to reflect the changes.

A new policy on district provided technology devices for staff members outlines rules for use of computers, laptops, tablets, phones or any other technological device the district provides its employees. The policy states that the staff member will sign use-agreement with the rules laid out in the policy, which include common sense precautions, such as keeping the device locked and secured when not in use, using the device only for work purposes and keeping food and drinks away from the device.

Rules for use of social networking sites were set for staff members, and includes reminders to maintain professionalism, refrain from posting graphic sexual or violent material and to uphold the district’s value of respect for the individual. It also says that staff should not post status updates, comments or any other communications during school hours, unless it is part of a pre-approved school project.

Updated Policies

The district introduced an update to its smoking policies to include the prohibition of the use of electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco on school grounds.  The policies apply to students, staff and visitors.

A policy titled, “Employment of Teaching Staff Members” raises the per diem rate for substitute teachers from $75 a day to $85. Substitutes who work more than 20 consecutive days are paid $92.50 per day.

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