On Nov. 16, 2021 the school board approved a special update to the district’s NEOLA policy. The update, called “Student Parent Rights School Safety and Security ACC” received tentative approval during the Oct. 12 workshop.
Neola is the company consultant that the school district uses to construct policy changes. Neola clients receive a Neola associate who are all former school administrators. The associate works with district staff to customize policies based on Neola templates. The Neola Production Office creates a working draft of the policy book incorporating policy changes. With the Neola associate, school district staff may work to further revise policy until the school board adopts the final policy book.
After the final policy book is adopted, Neola creates a hard copy. Neola also publishes it on a district policy website which allows direct access to board bylaws, policies, administrative guidelines/procedures, and forms in a searchable format. There are two regular updates to the policy book annually, which incorporate proposed revisions to bylaws, policies, guidelines/procedures, and forms. These proposed revisions are based on changes in Federal and State law, government regulations, and school practices.
Parental Notification of Involuntary Examinations or Baker Acts
Changes prompted by the state expand language in regards to communication between school districts and parents. Specifically, (within 5780 Parent and Student Rights section) there were some changes in regards to parent notification for Baker Acts or involuntary examinations of students outside of the school district, explained Lisa Becker, Executive Director of Business Services for Hernando Schools on Oct. 12. Prior to removing a student from school for Baker Act or involuntary examination, the parent must be notified immediately, but sometimes it is difficult to make contact with the parent, explained Becker.
“The language was expanded to the benefit of the district so as to allow it to be a reasonable attempt. We do have to document every attempt that we make. But it does contemplate the fact that the parents can’t be contacted in an emergency situation and we need to get these students transported.”
Declaration of Independence
An addition to the policy was the parents’ right to provide written consent for their child not to participate in the reading of the Declaration of Independence in addition to the Pledge of Allegiance.
The policy now reads, “A student will be excused from reciting the pledge of allegiance or the Declaration of Independence, upon written request by the student’s parent, in accordance with State law.”
Florida Statutes are as follows:
1003.421 Recitation of the Declaration of Independence.—
(1) To educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded, the last full week of classes in September shall be recognized in public schools as Celebrate Freedom Week. Celebrate Freedom Week must include at least 3 hours of appropriate instruction in each social studies class, as determined by each school district, which instruction shall include an in-depth study of the intent, meaning, and importance of the Declaration of Independence.
(2) To emphasize the importance of this week, at the beginning of each school day or in homeroom, during the last full week of September, public school principals and teachers shall conduct an oral recitation by students of the following words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
(3) Student recitation of this statement shall serve to reaffirm the American ideals of individual liberty.
(4) Upon written request by a student’s parent, the student must be excused from the recitation of the Declaration of Independence.
Instructional Materials for Dual Enrollment Students
Another addition is related to instructional materials for dual enrollment students. The policy reads, “Instructional materials purchased by the District or a Florida College System institution board of trustees on behalf of dual enrollment students is available to the dual enrollment students free of charge.”
This aligns with current Florida statutes which read, “Instructional materials assigned for use within dual enrollment courses shall be made available to dual enrollment students from Florida public high schools free of charge. This subsection does not prohibit a Florida College System institution from providing instructional materials at no cost to a home education student or student from a private school. Instructional materials purchased by a district school board or Florida College System institution board of trustees on behalf of dual enrollment students shall be the property of the board against which the purchase is charged.”
Becker stated that the district has always paid for instructional materials for dual enrollment students so she doesn’t see that there will be cost increases for this policy.
Parents Bill of Rights
An entirely new policy was created with the passage of legislation requiring the establishment of a Bill of Rights for parents.
The new policy (5780.01) takes each subsection of the bill and places it into a section of policy 5780.01 (subsections A-H).
The New Policy is as follows:
5780.01 – PARENTS’ BILL OF RIGHTS
As required by F.S. 1014.01 through 1014.06, the Board adopts this policy titled, Parents’ Bill of Rights.
For purposes of this policy, parent means a person who has legal custody of a minor child, as a natural or adoptive parent, or a legal guardian.
Pursuant to F.S. 1014.01 through 1014.06, parental rights include, but are not limited to, the following:
A. Educational Choice
To apply to enroll their minor child in public school, private school, religious school, home education or other options that are available.
B. School Records
To access and review all school records pertaining to their minor child.
C. Health Care Decisions
To make health care decisions for their minor child, unless otherwise prohibited by law.
D. Medical Records
To access and review all medical records of their minor child, unless prohibited by law or if the parent is the subject of an investigation of a crime committed against the minor child and a law enforcement agency or official requests that the information not be released.
E. Biometric Scans
To give their prior written consent before a school employee makes, stores or shares any biometric scan of their minor child.
F. Record of blood or DNA
To give their consent in writing before a school employee creates, stores or shares any record of their minor child’s blood or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), except as required by general law or authorized pursuant to a court order.
G. Video/Voice Recordings
To give their consent in writing before a school employee makes a video or voice recording of their minor child, unless the recording is used solely for the following:
1. A safety demonstration, including the maintenance of order and discipline in the common areas of a school or on student transportation vehicles;
2. A purpose related to a legitimate academic or extra-curricular activity;
3. A purpose related to regular classroom instruction;
4. Security or surveillance of buildings or grounds; or
5. A photo identification card.
(See also Policies: 2461 – Recording of IEP Team Meetings, 7440.01 – Video Survellience)
H. Criminal Offenses
To be notified promptly if a school employee suspects that a criminal offense has been committed against their minor child, unless the incident has first been reported to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families and notifying the parent would impede the investigation.
The parental rights listed above do not prohibit or impede child welfare activities when performed by a court of competent jurisdiction, law enforcement officer or employees of a government agency.
This policy does not authorize a parent of a minor child to engage in conduct that is unlawful or to abuse or neglect their minor child in violation of general law. (See Policy 8462 – Student Abuse, Abandonment, and Neglect)
Any employee of the district may be subject to disciplinary action if the employee encourages, coerces, or attempts to encourage or coerce, a minor child to withhold information from the minor child’s parent.
“I foresee this expanding as all new bills do, but right now it’s very concise,” said Becker.
Policy 8405 School Safety and Security
Jill Renihan, Director of Safe Schools, explained some changes relating to school safety and security. She said that policy has been matched to new rulemaking that lists specific responsibilities for school safety specialists. She said that the policy changes follow existing responsibilities that the school safety specialist carries out.
She also explained that instead of submitting required disciplinary action to the state on an annual basis, they must now do so monthly.
She said that this goes back to the new Parents Bill of Rights. “Schools are now sharing out serious incidents [without releasing protected information]… in a more timely manner. There was some concern about when parents were getting information and whether or not they had access to real-time data about the schools that their children went to.”
She added, “I think the intent is to keep parents more informed as we proceed through the year.”
She explained that they have submitted August and September data.
School discipline data may be accessed here: https://www.fldoe.org/safe-schools/discipline-data.stml
How Curriculum is Chosen
Linda Prescott, Board Chairwoman (at the Oct. 12 workshop), asked Becker about policy relating to parental review of curriculum as Beth Narverud, former school board member and current county commissioner, had questions about the process.
Policy states, “Parents have the ability to access their child’s instructional materials and may object to the use of a specific instructional material or contest the adoption of instructional material (See Policy 2520, Selection and Adoption of Instructional Materials).”
Becker remarked, “Every year, parents are allowed access to their student’s instructional materials as far as what’s going to be taught in the class and that’s usually information that’s sent home by the teacher, put in the students’ planners. At that time, if they see something that they don’t like or have an issue with they should direct any concerns to the teacher or administration. That’s already adopted material. That’s already [in the] standards and practices the school is already dealing with.”
Becker explained that while it is the school board that adopts curriculum, the district is required to post information on the recommendation of proposed curriculum in a public manner 20 days prior to the workshop where the board will make the decision, that way the public has time to review those recommendations. At the public hearing, parents will have the opportunity to be heard. After adoption, they could file a petition which goes through another hearing process.
“There’s a lot of involvement from the public, but not necessarily at the table when the materials are being adopted or discussed. That’s a staff process,” said Becker.
Superintendent Stratton explained that within board policy, it clearly says that selection of materials is staff driven as they have the expertise and it’s coming from a state vetted list. Then prior to adoption it is posted online for parental input.
Stratton and Board Member Susan Duval both expressed that the current process works well.