Screenshot via YouTube - Tim Gardner of Thrun Law Firm (left) discusses the current situation with the Three Rivers Community Schools Board of Education’s administrative guidelines for classroom displays during their meeting Tuesday.

'Fork in the road' for proposed TRCS classroom display guidelines

THREE RIVERS — As the process of creating administrative guidelines or a policy for classroom displays continues at Three Rivers Community Schools, a new potential policy from the district’s consultant could affect how they could implement the proposed guidelines.

The TRCS Board of Education discussed the potential guidelines and the policies that may or may not go with them during their meeting Monday. While no official action was taken, they were assisted in discussion by Tim Gardner of the district’s law firm, Thrun Law Firm, who said the district is currently at a “fork in the road” when it comes to what the district wants to do.

“In reality, in regards to all of these issues, there’s no bright line rule to what you can do. You usually have to fashion something, fashion a policy or administrative guideline that works for your specific district,” Gardner said. “I think your best option would really be to have a good board policy made to beef up the controversial issues administrative guideline.”

Currently, the district is considering guidelines for classroom displays that could have fallen under either an existing policy on “controversial issues” or become a new board policy by itself. The proposed guidelines did not explicitly ban any display in particular, nor explicitly allow any type of display, however they would lay out “expectations” for classroom displays. Discussion on the topic stems back to last November’s Pride flag controversy at Three Rivers Middle School.

However, at Monday’s discussion, Superintendent Nikki Nash pointed out a new policy proposed by Neola, the consultant the district uses for board policy, regarding classroom displays, which she said came out a short time after the board’s last meeting in August. Regarding it, Gardner told the board they have to decide “what direction it wants to go.”

“In some cases, some districts say no flags, no posters, no nothing, where on the other hand, some want a little more flexibility. You’ve tried to make an attempt with the administrative guideline to try to address controversial issues and then have an administrative guideline that addresses it, but you can do that in conjunction with your mission statement as a cross-reference and improving that as well,” Gardner said.

Nash asked Gardner if the proposed administrative guidelines being worked on by the district could be attached to the new proposed Neola policy for classroom displays and then revisit the controversial topics policy and the district’s mission statement, to which Gardner said they could do it separate, but preferred them to do it all at the same time.

“What you have right now, I think you bring that policy into discussion, have some further discussions with Neola, and meanwhile I know our team can look at and make suggestions to streamline this to see what works best,” Gardner said. “I would not do this a piece at a time, because you want to get community input at the same time, and then some community members may have a good point and bring something to your attention we might be missing. Will this be a longer discussion, potentially? It probably will be, but the end product will be something that everybody has feedback on and you can explain that process to the community better.”

Gardner said if the board reviews the proposed Neola policy in the next couple weeks, he said he could give suggestions based on board feedback because “we want the end product to be something you’re happy with and the community’s happy with.”

Trustee Nichole Cover asked whether or not the policy from Neola has to be “all or nothing” or if modifications could be made by the board. Gardner said the board can make changes or amendments to fit their needs, as long as it’s compliant with law. Nash said that would be done through the policy committee.

Board President Erin Nowak said the policy committee would meet to look at the new Neola proposed policies, and figure out what to do with the administrative guidelines, saying they could tie a couple of the policies with the administrative guidelines and “make sure our policy and administrative guidelines line up with the mission.” Vice President Melissa Bliss said the administrative guidelines, in her view, line up with the proposed policy for classroom displays from Neola, while Cover said now that there is a proposed policy out there, it might make sense to only put an administrative guideline for that policy.

“What we were trying to do, because we didn’t have this policy, we were trying to figure out if we needed an administrative guideline. Now if you have a policy that’s more in line, it might make sense to only put an administrative guideline to this, not to the controversial issues [policy],” Cover said.

Overall, Nash said the district will talk with their Neola representative in the next week or two, and then schedule a policy committee meeting to discuss further and possibly make a decision on where to go. She targeted a potential resolution to the issue by either November or December.

In other business…

  • The board approved an administrator contract for Kerrie Bass as the new Three Rivers Partnership coordinator.
  • In the board’s consent agenda, new employment contracts were approved for Park Elementary kindergarten teacher Emily Gauze, Norton Elementary third grade teacher Jennifer Kemp, Three Rivers Middle School math teacher Jonathan Lockwood, Norton Elementary fifth grade teacher Cara Sedlecky, TRMS art teacher Kathryn Trattles, Three Rivers High School social studies teacher Emily Vailliencourt, Norton Elementary third grade teacher Chris VanderMei, and TRMS social studies teacher Adrienne Wilson.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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