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School board shapes policy on bullying, staff conduct


The Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education devoted much of its 4.5-hour meeting on April 23 to updating and revising several policies, including ones guiding the school district’s response to bullying, respect and security in the learning environment and compliance with state regulations.

The elected board members set policies and Superintendent Ignacio Ruiz is charged with maintaining regulations that enact those policies.

Staff presents policies in draft form to the board members at least three times in a process of revision taking place in public session in a process that incorporates public input. Proposed policies and changes are posted on the LCPS.net website during the process. The current policies are also available online.

At times, the deliberations drill into fine points of grammar and punctuation, particularly when policies are up for their third reading ahead of possible approval. At other times, broader discussions about the purposes of each policy and how they might function in reality take place.

At the April 23 session, the board addressed four policies.


School attendance zones and redistricting (JCAA)

This outlines the process for determining “geographic school attendance areas” in the district: which school a child attends, based on where they live or circumstances such as a special placement, disciplinary actions, availability of curricular materials or other conditions. It details the criteria used by the board and superintendent for drawing the boundaries of the attendance zones, such as school building capacity, enrollment, plans for new school sites, keeping siblings together whenever possible and minimizing moving students around, among others.

The draft was presented for its third reading Tuesday and was unanimously approved, 5-0.


Bullying, cyberbullying and harassment (JICFA)

The draft presented to the board for a third reading extended to nine pages, mainly because of an extensive list of definitions of terms. This led to a discussion of process and whether definitions belonged in policies, which are set by the elected body, or regulations and administrative rules by which the superintendent implements the policies.

Another topic of discussion was a section addressing hazing, its definition and whether it needed to be addressed on its own under the policy versus including it simply as a form of bullying.

Deputy superintendent Wendi Miller-Tomlinson suggested that addressing hazing by name represented a current public concern, making a discreet reference to previous alleged sexual assaults among members of the New Mexico State University men’s basketball team that led to an $8 million civil settlement with victims and criminal charges against three former players last year.

“We had a very serious incident of hazing in this community that had kind of a profound impact on students at the university and some LCPS staff, and just in conversation, I believe the community may have an appetite to see hazing in here, because of that,” Miller-Tomlinson said.

School board president Teresa Tenorio responded that whether the hazing section remained in the policy or not, the board did not intend to “erase” or minimize the phenomenon of hazing and the harm it causes. Ultimately, the language about hazing remained in the policy, if not in the policy’s title.

Otherwise, the discussion largely dealt with sentence structure, wording and assuring the language would not conflict with state requirements. The policy rejects “bullying, cyberbullying, racialized aggression, and harassment” across the district. It directs the superintendent and staff to establish procedures for investigating and addressing the behaviors promptly with parental notification with provisions for safeguarding victims.

The policy also addresses social networking websites, discouraging students from bullying and harmful behaviors online, as well as connecting with employees on their personal accounts.

It was unanimously approved.


Staff conduct with students (GBEBB)

This article codifies, as LCPS policy, requirements of the New Mexico Code of Ethics’ standards for school district employees. It also mandates that employees respect cultural diversity and recognizes that “implicit bias can cause damage to young people and can lead to racial profiling of students.”

During the meeting’s public comment period, Richard Reynaud recommended the board not adopt any language pertaining to “implicit bias,” a term referring to subconscious stereotypes and prejudices. Reynaud argued initial research on the concept was flawed and should not be the basis for policy. The board did not take up his argument and left the language in.

The board members discussed a provision forbidding employees from providing gifts or money to students except in “clear and occasional circumstances.” Board member Pamela Cort pointed out that certain items, such as coats, are often available through school resources and need not fall on the individual charity of employees.

Board member Patrick Nolan sought assurance that the policy could not be used punitively in a circumstance such as a teacher providing a child with a small amount of cash during a field trip for an incidental expense, whereas the intent of the policy is to target inappropriate transactions related to ethical conflicts. The board agreed the language allowed for those circumstances.

Cort, a retired educator herself, also objected to language that forbade employees from offering transportation to students in personal vehicles “unless absolutely unavoidable.” The district allows approved employees to transport students in district vehicles but not in personal vehicles, and Cort said she was used to a clear prohibition on the latter.

“My understanding as an employee is that you never, ever give a student a ride,” she said. “This says that you can, and I think we might get ourselves in trouble insurance-wise and everything-else-wise.”

Roxie DeSantiago, the district’s legal counsel, concurred that policy should preclude employees giving rides to students, citing multiple liability risks, although state administrative code grants some flexibility.

The board did not take a vote, as the policy was before them for its first reading.



Removal of older student harassment policy (JICKA)

An existing policy on student harassment based on personal characteristics, last revised in 2008, was removed by unanimous vote of the school board because the just-approved policy on bullying made it redundant after parts of it were incorporated into the staff conduct policy. Staff advised the board that removing the policy did not diminish any protections for students or requirements of staff. The school board unanimously approved removing the policy.

Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education, policies, bullying, security