By David Fleet
On April 23, the Goodrich Board of Education completed its audit of student discipline practices at Oaktree Elementary.
In January the school board had started an investigation at Oaktree following alleged disciplinary issues that involve the superintendent’s son.
Superintendent Ryan Relken distributed a letter on Jan. 14 stating that a group of parents are making assertions that students who are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) are physically harming other students.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires schools to serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities. Schools must find and evaluate students suspected of having disabilities—at no cost to parents. Autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment are some of the disabilities.
“Among the children that these parents are making assertions about is my son,” wrote Relken in the letter. “These parents are further stating that teachers and other staff at Oaktree are refusing to discipline students protected by IDEA appropriately because they are afraid of retaliation from me based on the fact that my son is one of the children about whom they are making assertions.”
“These assertions are causing significant disruption in the educational environment at the Oaktree campus,”added Relken. “It is important that not only the assertions and any motivations behind them be understood, but also any context in which they are being made should be fully explored. Further, if there is room for improvement in any of our processes or any misunderstandings about District policy and IDEA requirements, it is important that they be promptly addressed,” he wrote.
Relken initiated the investigation through the board’s legal counsel Joe Urban of Clark Hill and his colleague, Vicki Coe, to review the assertions and make recommendations. He rescued himself from this process and asked that board legal counsel coordinate the investigation with Goodrich Director of Student Services, Michelle Flessa.
Following the three month investigation Greg Main, school board president issued a public statement.
“Goodrich Area Schools is committed to providing the best education possible for all learners,” said Main in a written statement. “We take seriously any input we receive from the public or our team members about our policies, procedures and practice. The board’s audit conducted by legal counsel, included interviews with over 25 staff and parents, with some interviews occurring over several days.”
Parents were interviewed at times convenient to them and staff interviews involved union representation. All interviews were assured of confidentiality in their statements and that the school district would take serious action in the event that any interviewee retaliation.
“Student and employee confidentiality protections mean that we cannot discuss specific individuals and findings,” said President Main. “What we did find is that Goodrich staff and stakeholders are passionately dedicated to the education of all Goodrich children in the way that is most appropriate to their situations. To that end, we have developed a list of next-steps based on the outcome of the audit. They will be implemented by the Director of Student Services under the supervision of the Superintendent and monitored by the Board of Education.”
The six recommendations from the audit are as follows:
1. District-wide training of all staff on the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act– to address appropriate guidelines related to private student information;
2. Development of District-wide Discipline Policies and Procedures and corresponding training of all staff on the new policy and procedures – to create a uniform set of expectations across all buildings related to maintaining an appropriate educational environment;
3. Development and implementation of a District-wide Communication Protocol that addresses how new
Policies and Procedures will be communicated to staff – to prevent misunderstandings about implementation of policy and to ensure that all staff are receiving appropriate direction on implementation of policies and procedures, particularly those related to discipline;
4. Conduct of a review of the recess procedures at Oaktree Elementary to address any identified issues, which can include, but is not limited to assessing staffing and recess procedures.
5. Review and, where appropriate, revision of the District’s Professional Development schedule and mandatory trainings for general education and special education staff – to ensure that all staff receive appropriate training to carry out the essential functions of their job.
6. Review and, where appropriate, revise the District’s record management system – to ensure effective tracking of disciplinary processes and their efficacy.
“We believe that the faithful implementation of these six items will address concerns addressed by parents of all points of view and strengthen our staff in their continued efforts to obtain the best education for kids,” President Main said.