- Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

April 29, 2014

School chief promises better

Controversial policies, book discussed

GROVE CITY — Grove City’s superintendent of schools made a promise to school board members on Monday “to do a better job” in helping them push through some difficult decisions.

The board had been doing a rewrite of its policies and procedures manual, which was primarily approved a few months ago with the exception of a few sticky items. Dr. Richard Mextorf said he wished he would have suggested a different way to process those controversial policies.

“When things aren’t going right, I take it personally and the person I look at first is in the mirror,” Mextorf said after the meeting.

A policy regarding background checks for volunteers, as well as policies for harassment of students/staff, could have been better handled by an ad hoc committee already established to work on policies, rather than board members “spinning their wheels” for months in their committee of the whole talks, he explained to the board.

The ad hoc committee could then have report back to the larger board once it did deeper research on the policies. That could have kept the board from reaching stalemate after stalemate – which at times has caused the larger meetings to be long and frustrating.

On Monday, the ad hoc committee idea was applied to the background checks for volunteers. Director Faye Bailey and members of the community believed background checks for volunteers should all be handled by the FBI, which covers criminal activity done over the state line.

The district has primarily done state criminal checks, and Mextorf has warned that doing all FBI checks would result in a logistic and financial problem due to the high volume of volunteers in the district and the low volume of district employees processing the background checks.

“It’s a bad position you’ve been put in to approve something cost efficient versus ‘saving our kids,’” he said on Monday. “If you didn’t vote for FBI, then you’d feel you weren’t voting for the highest level of protection for our kids. We don’t mean to do that.”

Mextorf recently realized that he should have advised the board “to go back to committee” on the matter, he said. “I allowed this to go on. It’s become ‘don’t spend money’ or ‘save our kids’ and we never meant it to be that.”

If the committee recommended (and the board approved) that all volunteers should have FBI checks – which they could get on their own and the district would reimburse them – then the district would find a way to make it happen, the superintendent said. Director Vern Saylor wondered why the district would take on the financial responsibility for the FBI checks at all. “If you really want to volunteer, why not pay on your own?” he said. Bailey noted that could be a possibility, except in instances when people could not afford an FBI check but really wanted to be a volunteer.

Director Paul Gubba added that the FBI checks should be sensible; not being forced on parents who “want to bring in cupcakes for their kids’ (class).”

As for the harassment policies, the board did approve the first reading for one of two options provided by Mextorf. Five out of nine board members voted for the option that forbade harassment of “every child without exception.”

The other option provided didn’t allow harassment to any protected class identified by state or federal law, which Mextorf called the “safest” legal terminology for the district. The superintendent said, however, that voting for the former option was more true to the board’s desire to make a stand for its kids. “I like the fact that we’re going to be a little bold,” he said.

Mextorf has said over and over that no harassment would be tolerated against any student in the district. However, the directors wanted it in writing for all the kids – not just ones given a protected status by law – which makes them stand apart.

“It feels good to do that,” Mextorf said. “You can sue anybody for any reason,” he added, no matter how well something is worded in policy.

The first reading was also approved for harassment against staff, which was worded with the protected class terminology. Gubba asked why not say “every adult without exception,” which Mextorf believed wasn’t necessary because the adults could better take care of themselves. The harassment policy for adults passed 6-3.

The board also voted 6-3 to once again table the purchase of a history book, called “AP American History: Connecting with the Past” for an advanced placement course for high school students. Some community members complained about the content of the book, saying it favors a more liberal bias. Monday, residents said an older version was being used, so why spend money if the changes were only minor.

Adam Renick didn’t know much about the history book, since he was absent when there was discussions about it, he said. He was going to vote against the purchase for that reason before the board decided to table the vote.

Mextorf said that Principal Rae Lin Howard – and the history teacher using the book – could also speak at next month’s committee of the whole meeting about why this particular history book is being used for advanced students. Howard was on vacation at the time of Monday’s meeting. “I agree with tabling it if we’re not all comfortable,” Saylor said, “but there comes a time to trust the people who recommended it and did the research and will teach it.”

Published April 16, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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