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Superintendent: No discipline for free speech

Do teachers have a right to speak with school board members?

By one account, they are banned from doing so in the Dixon schools.

"Board policy states teachers cannot contact board members without proper authorization or will be written up as a disciplinary action," former Dixon board member Carolyn Brechon said in a recent guest column.

I checked the school board's policies.

The "chain of command" policy mandates that all personnel refer matters requiring administrative action to the "responsible administrator" and may appeal a decision to a higher administrative officer.

Under the policy, the superintendent shall communicate the channels of authority and reporting relationships for school employees.

"These channels should be followed, and no level should be bypassed except in unusual situations," it states.

The Rock Falls High School board has the same policy.

The Sterling school board has a more expansive policy. It says employees, parents and residents should submit questions or communications for the board through the superintendent.

"The superintendent shall provide the board with a summary of these questions or communications and provide, as appropriate, his or her feedback regarding the matter," the policy says. "If contacted individually, board members will refer the person to the appropriate level of authority, except in unusual situations."

Dixon Superintendent Michael Juenger told me that district has had situations where employees bypass administrators and go directly to school board members with their issues. He said he has sent letters to those employees reminding them of the policy.

He said employees unhappy with the resolution of an issue can go up the chain of command. But they should start with their immediate supervisors.

"We don't discipline people for their freedom of speech," he said.

Sterling's policy seems designed for parents upset with their children's specific situations. Following the chain of command in such situations makes sense. After all, individual board members have no power whatsoever. They only have authority together.

Sterling's policy, however, asks that all concerns go through the superintendent. Is that really what the school board wants? Certainly, residents should feel free to call board members about general issues such as school spending and taxes. After all, the members are our elected representatives.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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