J in the Midwest writes:
I thought I’d share with my fellow LGBT liberty friends an odd little experience in my first school board policy committee meeting. Prior to getting myself elected, the board already had a contractor in the process of revising our board policy manual, for a whole lot of money. Yes, the incumbent board members all of whom have been in office forever and have never met a challenger on the ballot until I came along, actually over the years have managed to contract out their own job of writing the policies of our school, to instead have them written by a private corporation. I find the entire notion of such astonishing.
This corporation really hypes up what a valuable service they have to offer in keeping up with all of the state and federal regulatory changes so that our local board policies “remain up to date”. We’re talking thousands of dollars to have them do this. But guess what they really actually do? Almost nothing!
I sat through a 3 hour meeting consisting of a tremendously bizarre process. Only one other member of the school board even showed up for this meeting, consisting of myself, the superintendent, one of our principals, and two field reps of this corporation. The superintendent had a copy of the currently enacted board policies which were written by this same company a few years back but our district had allowed its subscription contract to lapse for a while such that our policy provisions were apparently considered to no longer be in style.
The company’s field reps had an updated copy of their “generic” policy manual template. About 2/3rds of the paragraphs on each page were typed up and ready to go. The remaining provisions had a pair of brackets like this: [ ] preceding each line or paragraph. These were multiple choice options for what we could select our local policy to be. The company’s rep would race skimming through the manual, often skipping the content that didn’t have [ ]’s in front of it, unless I spoke up to ask about something I was seeing on these pages I had just been handed, at which point he would explain some sort of regulatory change or union action that in some way influenced their decision to change the generic policy that would become our policy language. The substance of the meeting consisted of the superintendent advising which of the check boxes we had checked on the older version of that same page some years ago at which point we’d mostly nod as the other choice generally didn’t feel right to anyone in the room, not that the difference was of much meaningful substance to begin with.
At one point we got to a choice between two versions of a non-discriminatory disclosure statement listing that we don’t discriminate over race, sex, religion, national origin, etc. The first choice (which was actively in effect having been rubber stamped by the board a few years ago) omitted the term “sexual orientation” while the second choice included it. This was the only substantive difference between the two choices.
The company’s rep advised us that districts in more wealthy communities select the second choice often to appeal to boards members with strong political connections in their city, while smaller districts in poorer areas go for the first version.
He said that we have to publish this disclosure on a whole list of items–basically most of our print materials. This is under some sort of federal funding program, but more recently he went on to explain that the federal government has now empowered itself to enlarge the definition of the word “sex” (clearly intended to mean gender) to somehow be additionally inclusive of orientation as well, by their own interpretation. All of the schools are judged on whether or not they are adhering to the federally broadened interpretation of the local policy. The federal government doesn’t explicitly mandate what our policy shall be. It just offers us a bribe on the grounds of whether or not we follow our own locally voted upon policy, by their interpretation, not ours. At least, I think that’s how it was explained–frankly it was getting a little hard to follow.
Then the a reference was made to yet another document I didn’t even have yet that this company had already given the superintendent, called ‘guidelines’. This guidelines manual sounds like a superintendents playbook for how to “work the system” as per what fits together really well with the language of this policy manual so that we can deliberately exploit our own policy language given any number of scenarios that may arise with faculty, unions, federal programs, state programs, regulatory compliance, students, parents, lawsuits, etc. In other words, pander issues and play both sides by following simple step-by-step procedures.
We present the public with one set of laws–our approved board policies. In there we don’t advertise to the public nor to our faculty that we even recognize orientation at all. Then when a faculty member asks the superintendent about gay partner benefits and the like, he doesn’t look at the policy because the policy says nothing about it deliberately. He looks at the corresponding “guidelines” play book that privately goes with the policy (unless someone FOIA requests it, I suppose). In there he’ll figure out that the real, effectively secret policy is that we just kind of dodge the subject and hope it goes away but if the employee makes a stink about it then we go ahead and give them insurance for their boyfriend without advertising that we don’t discriminate based on orientation. In other words don’t discriminate, but don’t tell that we don’t either.
The whole point of this is to hope that our gay faculty just wouldn’t think that we offer them anything and wouldn’t bother to apply for it, but secretly we would probably go ahead and give it to them anyway so that we can keep our federal funding even though the federal government is lying to itself in saying that it doesn’t tell us what to do.
Then the other option is for districts in wealthy suburban predominately liberal areas where they have incumbent board members that want to appeal liberal voters and have political connections. That policy option, which is only differentiated by adding the words “sexual orientation” to the disclosure, has its own play book guidelines that I guess aren’t necessarily the same strategy for working the system for the same sort of scenario that comes up.
This has all been figured out behind the scenes to determine what makes financial sense in the long term for districts that are willing to do nothing more than rubber stamp these corporately crafted policies.
Everyone else there wanted to just leave it as it was. I asked why on earth we would not just include the word orientation if that is in fact what we intend to honor in our own guidelines anyway? They don’t know, so they just shrugged and checked the other box per my suggestion as though it really didn’t even matter to them one way or the other anymore, but you could kinda sense the vibe present in the room that they used to give a bigger rip about it, now they’ve just kind of thrown in the towel–federal is going to enforce it behind the scenes anyway so whats it matter, lets just get this over with and get out of here.
Then we got to the professional staff weapons policy. can’t have none. Nope, nada, zip zero, not even so much as a knife, pepper spray, air soft gun, nothing like that. And they didn’t have any choices at all on this, other than some nonsense at the bottom about props for theatrical performances or starter guns for athletic races. I asked why there aren’t options on the top of the page for allowing defensive weapons in one or more scenarios. They said it’s illegal. I said it is legal if our board says it is. I insisted that Michigan schools are able to allow open carry of a firearm but not concealed carry. The company that we’re paying outrageous amounts of money to keep our policies up to date with what’s going on in Lansing somehow does not know that it is legal to open carry. It they don’t know about all the open carry stuff that went on in schools last summer and the determinations that were made from that, then are they really keeping us up to date on state legislative issues? It became obvious that I know far more about Michigan laws regarding weapons in schools than this company does, and yet this kind of expertise is the only thing we are effectively paying them for. My healthy dose of skepticism questions if there isn’t some sort of behind the scenes influence within this company to influence local school board policies on firearms by propelling the notion that the board’s hands are tied, when in fact they are not tied nearly as much as they seem to suggest. It really makes me wonder what other sorts of policies are being dictated to us in fewer options than what choices we really have available to us if we take the time to research all this stuff and actually write our own policies for a change–as I am now doing with our weapons policy. I successfully got that one section tabled until the next meeting.
Overall I find this whole set of practices bizarre.
Jeff Phillips Oh, getting back to them doing almost nothing — here is what I have a hunch this company actually does.
They get a word document. They type it with the outline feature where they can just expand or close out entire paragraphs. The generic template i…See More
Jeff Phillips I see this “working the system” notion as trying to get good at surfing during a tidal wave of tyranny, as opposed to just swimming in a sea of confusion.
A lot of things are upside down in our government, especially the notion that local residents p…See More