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War Stories

My story is minor compared to some that I've heard.

I'm on the Croydon school board. It's a very small town: ~700 residents. We have a K-4 school, and we tuition out our students for grades 5-12.

In the 7 years I've been on the board, we've had 7 superintendents (a couple were interim). This particular story is about what the school board is allowed to know about special education students, and that each of the superintendents had different ideas about how this works.

One year, right after our budget was approved by our town, we learned that we have a new out-of-district placement that will cost on the order of $150,000 per year, plus transportation. We also learned that the administration had known about this impending situation long before our town meeting. But I digress.

Can we understand why they were sent there? Why the cost is so high? How progress is going?

The administration at that time told us the IEP team handled all of that, and that we WERE NOT ALLOWED to know any of it. We just had to rubber-stamp the manifest to pay the bills.

This didn't seem right at all. We were told that it was a civil rights issue, and that we would have no control over it.

We also understood that there are privacy issues, except that we're entrusted to know about all sorts of privacy issues in the school district -- why not these?

Also, we're a small town, and it seemed that everyone BUT the school board knew who the child was. This didn't seem practical at all, from many perspectives.

A later superintendent told us that we COULD get reports of progress.

A more recent superintendent told us that we could get any information we wanted. So, we finally learned the nature of the disability, why they were placed out-of-district, what they were doing to try to get them back in a classroom, and so on.

This helped us explain our costs to our town, the very least that we wanted to do. But why wouldn't earlier superintendents give us that information?

We can't allow superintendents to decide willy-nilly about what they can and cannot tell us. We need know what the law requires and to hold them to it!

The very first school board meeting after my election, the school board introduced something called "School Board Rules."  I had been a very outspoken school budget committee member with a razor sharp blog and a media profile.  There was no doubt these rules were meant for me. Here are two of the most objectionable ones:

  • Rule 7: All decisions made by the Board will be supported by all board members

regardless of how a member voted. Efforts to undermine a decision will not be tolerated.

  • Rule 8: All communication to the press will be provided by the Chair. Board members

contacted by the press will not comment and direct the press to contact the Chair.

In reply to my protests that these were unreasonable restrictions on an elected official, the school board chairman told me that these rules applied to all board members and there would be consequences if they were not followed.  Thankfully the press took up my cause and alerted the NH ACLU to the issue.

The NH ACLU wrote a most impressive letter to my board telling them that both rules were infringements of First Amendment rights.  Some back and forth followed between the school district's lawyer and the ACLU until common sense language was established.  The next year the rules were dropped altogether but that didn't stop equally objectionable precepts of a similar nature from being preserved in the School Board Ethics policy which board members are supposed to sign every year:  "Take no private action that will compromise the Board’s actions or decisions, and respect and support such actions and decisions as made by the majority vote or consensus of the Board."

I have refused to sign this so called code of ethics.  One chairman took me off all committees which made me laugh because it gave me more time to build my blog and gain more traction in my criticism. Eventually the complexion of the board changed to include elected officials who respect the Constitution and a difference of opinion by fellow elected members.

Never feel you must sign anything you don't agree with, and jealously guard your rights as an individual because you give up none of those rights when you join an elected board.