School Board limits public comment to district residents and parents

  • Conant High School Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/10/2021 5:02:59 PM

The Jaffrey-Rindge School Board added new restrictions to its public comment policy last week which forbid the current teachers’ union president – or any other person who does not live in Jaffrey or Rindge – from speaking at board meetings. 

During its meeting on March 1, the board adopted changes to its School Board comments policy, restricting comments to those who live within the district, which excludes staff members who work in the schools but live outside of Jaffrey and Rindge.

“As a school board, we are accountable to the residents, and we are accountable to the parents and guardians, and we’re very interested in their thoughts about the direction of our school system,” Vice-Chair Charlie Eicher said when asked about the staff members’ ability to comment.

School staff members, Eicher said, have other avenues for bringing issues forward, including through their building administrators or filing grievances in compliance with the district’s policy. Some of those processes, Eicher said, may end up in front of the school board, and the board should have an unbiased view when they receive grievances through the official channels.

“We thought the place for bringing issues forward was not in public comment to the school board, but rather the processes available to them within the district itself,” Eicher said.

Mark Haley, president of the Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association, the teacher’s union, said teachers and district staff are a “group of incredibly important stakeholders” to the district, and said he hoped the goal of the amendment wasn’t to bar them from speaking. Haley himself, while working as a middle school teacher and union president, lives in Keene, outside of the district.

“[The board] already have a policy that prevents staff members from communicating with them directly, so if they are going to be enforcing this new policy as well, there doesn’t seem to be any way for a staff member to speak to a school board member, and I’m not sure why they would be opting out of receiving feedback,” Haley said.

According to the policy that outlines board communications with staff, “All communications or reports to the Board or any Board Committee from Principals, supervisors, teachers, or other staff members shall be submitted through the Superintendent. This should not be interpreted to prevent residents from contacting Board Members regarding general concerns.”

Similarly, the policy states that board communications also should pass through the superintendent to staff.

Staff and School Board members are allowed to discuss general district matters if they meet in a social setting, but should not discuss personnel grievances.

During the meeting, one member of the public pointed out to the board that not all interactions between staff and the board would automatically be about a grievance or complaint, and that there had been teachers commenting this year about the reopening framework, and the discussions, even when there was a disagreement between the points of view, had not been “acrimonious.”

Eicher said the proper way for staff to communicate comments to the board is through the district superintendent.

The board approved the amendments to the comments policy, with one dissenting vote.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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