The Nutmeg Board of Education has been busy for years with challenges arising from outdated facilities, a contentious teachers’ union, and inadequate funding from Town and its irascible Board of Finance Chair, Seymour Dollars. As a result, the Board has been derelict in keeping its policies up to date. Indeed, the Board had not revised or even paid much attention to its policies since before the pandemic. That is now changing.
Goody Two-Shoes was recently appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board, and she is full of energy. She attended the CABE Legislative Update in June, and spent much of July reading through the various statutory changes the General Assembly enacted this year. Goody was especially concerned that the Board’s policy on bullying was last revised in 2012 and that as a result the definition of “bullying” in the policy did not reflect the changes made by the General Assembly in 2019 that became effective in 2021.
Veteran Board member Bob Bombast has long served as Chair of the Policy Committee. When Goody called him to ask why the Board policy on bullying was two years out of date, he shrugged and told her that he had more important things to do than keep track of legislative changes made by the General Assembly, adding, “It never ends with those people.” Bob then told Goody that she could chair the Policy Committee for all he cared, as long as it was OK with Ms. Chairperson.
Goody then met with Ms. Chairperson over coffee, and she described her concern. Ms. Chairperson was delighted to hear of Goody’s interest, and after a quick call to Bob, she appointed Goody on the spot to serve as Chair of the Policy Committee.
Goody took the ball and ran with it. She emailed the other members of the Policy Committee and explained that the district’s definition of “bullying” in the related policy was out of date. She provided the Committee members with the new definition of “bullying” that was effective July 1, 2021, and she asked Committee members to let her know if they had any objection to her proposing revisions to the Board’s bullying policy to confirm with the new definition. Red Cent and Mal Content, the other members of the Policy Committee, promptly responded to Goody’s email by expressing support for Goody’s proposed revisions, “better late than never,” as Mal commented in his reply email.
At the next meeting of the Nutmeg Board of Education, Goody presented the proposed revisions to Nutmeg’s safe school climate plan on behalf of the Policy Committee, which included the new definition of “bullying” that was effective July 1, 2021. The other Board members and Mr. Superintendent were generally appreciative of Goody’s efforts. However, Bob Bombast had something to say.
“While I should have been a better Policy Committee Chair, I can’t support this proposed revision. Goody should have been more diligent in her research before bringing this revised policy forward. In the 2023 legislative session, the General Assembly was at it again, and there is a newer “new” definition of bullying that we should use. I suggest that Goody and the Policy Committee do their homework and come back with a revised amended policy for the Board to adopt that reflects the latest changes in the bullying law.”
Is Bob correct in his claim that the Policy Committee in Nutmeg should go back to the drawing board?
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No. The Nutmeg Board is well advised to update its policy now as Goody proposed. However, as described below, the General Assembly did make fundamental changes in the bullying law earlier this year that must be addressed no later than July 1, 2025.
Before reviewing those changes, a word on the importance of board policy is in order. It is imperative that boards of education keep their policies up to date. Board policies regulate the affairs of the school district, and the guidance they provide must be up to date. Moreover, policies that are out of date can expose the school district to liability. If school personnel are required by law to take specified action but fail to do so because a policy was not updated to reflect that obligation, any harm that follows may result in a finding of liability. CABE regularly assists boards of education in keeping policies up to date, and the many resources that CABE Policy Services offers are described on the CABE website.
Getting back to Nutmeg, the Board should adopt the revisions proposed by Goody and the Policy Committee so that its bullying policy complies with the law. However, more work will be necessary because as required by Public Act 23-167, school districts in Connecticut (1) must adopt a to-be-written “Connecticut school climate policy” and (2) have in place in each of their schools a “school climate improvement plan” no later July 1, 2025, as described below.
A comprehensive description of the requirements of Public Act 23-167 is beyond the scope of this column, because the new law makes many changes in how school districts will be required to address bullying. However, a brief description of the two most significant changes may be helpful to board of education members looking ahead to 2025.
Public Act 23-167, §§ 47(13) and 49, gives both CABE and the Social and Emotional Learning and School Climate Advisory Collaborative significant new responsibilities. These provisions charge CABE with responsibility for developing, updating and approving a “Connecticut school climate policy,” which in turn must be adopted by the Collaborative. Section 49 elaborates on the policy to be developed, stating that it must provide “a framework for an effective and democratically informed school climate improvement process that serves to implement Connecticut school climate standards, and includes a continuous cycle of (A) planning and preparation, (B) evaluation, (C) action planning, and (D) implementation.” School districts may adopt and implement the Connecticut school climate policy (when it is completed and adopted) during the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years, and in any event they must adopt said policy no later than July 1, 2025.
In addition, the school climate specialist for each school, in collaboration with the district’s school climate coordinator, must develop, and update each year as necessary, a “school climate improvement plan” for that school. The school climate improvement plan must be based on the results of a required school climate survey, as well as any recommendations from the school climate committee, and any other data the school climate specialist and school climate coordinator deems relevant. The school climate improvement plan must include the required protocols and supports prescribed in great detail in section 71 of Public Act 23-167. Once the plan is approved, it must be provided to the “school community,” now a defined term, and it must be used in “the prevention of, identification of and response to challenging behavior,” as defined by Section 47(16) of Public Act 23-167.
Finally, we end by noting that Goody’s email and the Committee member responses violated the FOIA. Those emails constituted a discussion of Board business that should have occurred at a posted meeting.