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Schools pull policy on board members’ handling of complaints

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SMITHFIELD — Johnston school leaders last week amended two board policies and took a peek at proposed changes to two others.

But what might have been most interesting was a policy that was on the agenda one day and gone the next.

The school board was supposed to have its first reading of Policy Code 1541: Role of Board Members in Handling Complaints. But while the proposed policy was on the agenda Monday, it was gone on Tuesday, the day of the meeting.

“The policy was still in the information stage,” said Dolores Gill, the school system’s chief of staff and communication. “The policy committee will continue to make revisions.”

The proposed policy appeared to be a response to school board member Ronald Johnson, who says he has personally received complaints of sexual harassment in the schools and shared evidence of that harassment with authorities.

His actions would be in violation of Policy 1541 as it appeared online briefly last week. “An individual board member who receives a complaint, concern or inquiry from a parent, citizen or employee concerning a school matter shall refer the person to the appropriate school administrator,” the online text stated. “Individual board members shall refrain from taking individual action with regard to such complaints other than referring them to the proper administrative employee.”

“The Johnston County Board of Education members are a governing body,” the online text added. “Daily operations of the school district is the primary function of the superintendent and his or her designee.”

Johnson and school board Chairman Todd Sutton did not respond to emails seeking comment on the proposed policy.

Gill said the wording came from the N.C. School Boards Association, which often supplies school boards with sample policies.

Also last week, the school board adopted amendments to Policy 7400, which governs contracts in the school system.

Among other changes, the amended policy requires documented informal bids for expenditures above $3,500 but below $90,000. Also, the changes require the school system and individual schools to make purchases through the State Division of Purchase and Contract whenever possible.

The changes strike a provision that expressly allowed principals to enter into contracts for the following:

• School pictures.

• Yearbooks and school newspapers.

• Fundraising activities undertaken in compliance with board policies.

• Disc jockeys/bands and facilities for dances to be paid for with school funds.

• Athletic officials and security personnel for games and other special events.

• Class rings.

• Caps and gowns.

• Senior supplies, i.e., invitations, note cards, class keys, etc.

• Soft drinks and vending/dispensing machines.

• Maintenance services.

• Athletic supplies and materials.

“ Any violation of this policy ... may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from employment,” the amended policy adds.

Finally last week, the school board amended its homework policy to limit nightly homework in grades 6-12 to two hours.

“Homework may not be calculated for more than 10 percent of a student’s grade,” the amended policy adds. “Homework is not the primary determining factor of a student’s final grade.”

The changes strike a suggestion that teachers “consider the importance of student participation in planned family and community activities when assigning homework over weekends and holidays.”