School Board members, superintendent affirm professional development, inclusiveness in schools

Highlights of Nov. 11 Lincoln Board of Education meeting

The Lincoln Board of Education met for a work session on the Technology Plan and a regular Board meeting – both on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at LPS District Office, 5905 O St. The next Board meeting is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 25. Highlights follow.

Board of Education regular meeting

School Board members, superintendent affirm professional development, inclusiveness in schools

Lincoln Board of Education members and Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel Tuesday evening addressed recent questions and concerns about professional development related to transgender issues – and affirmed the Lincoln Public Schools philosophy of providing inclusiveness in our schools.

Board member Ed Zimmer noted that “as we talk about cultural competency we start by looking inward about who we are…So I will mention that I’m male, I’m white and I’m a heterosexual. I didn’t choose any of those characteristics, but they have proven to be advantages for me…Perhaps even more advantageous were my parents, who were people of deeply religious faith….with a belief that their creator didn’t make any second class souls or second class humans…As I translate this into my Board work and in the challenges we face, I believe in respecting all the children who come to us…And that compels us – for all the reasons of good – that we prepare our staff, to the best of their ability, to understand all the children in their classrooms. I feel fortunate to work in a school district that shares these beliefs. It’s not just a good idea, it is the law.”

Zimmer noted that previous staff development materials about transgender issues had been withdrawn because they did not meet the clarity of purpose and needs of LPS. “But I hope we will prepare our own materials, by our own skilled staff.”

Superintendent Steve Joel said LPS would move ahead to do just that. “We are in the process of inventorying existing materials…and have a standing committee in place to review materials. We are under a legal obligation to provide information to educators about transgender students. We’re not going to back away from that. We can’t back away from making sure our teachers and educators gain a beneficial understanding about all students.

“Our educators are doing things for the right reasons and they should be applauded for that…I want them to hear my words…We have to continue the work.”

Joel said LPS officials would be transparent as they move ahead in reviewing and selecting staff development materials “making sure they are appropriate, and that we are compliant with state and federal obligations.”

Other School Board members also commented.

  • Kathy Danek: “There are so many issues and so much diversity in the world…We try and give our teachers a plethora of information…to make sure they are trained to deal with each and every student in their classroom…That changes with every student who walks into the door…Our policies state that we take care of everyone, show admiration and respect for everyone in our classrooms.”
  • Don Mayhew: “The major point here is equal access, making sure every child has equal access to the classroom and equal opportunities.”
  • Lanny Boswell: “I would like to thank all community members who came forward on this issue…The conversation has been civil and respectful…and this has been a good opportunity to describe our principles: Our primary mission is to educate our children, all our children – and all still means all.”

Katie McLeese Stephenson, the Board member who chairs the Policy Review and Revision Committee, specifically addressed policy issues related to this topic – policies recently reviewed by the Committee.

The Committee – in summary – affirmed that recent professional development about transgender issues were in compliance with LPS policies. The Committee determined that the policies “support student success, parental involvement and comply with state and federal laws. There were no recommended changes made to the policies that we reviewed.”

The full Policy Review Committee summary follows.

Policy 8002: Purpose and Role of the Board

Public speakers expressed that the Board is responsible for all actions of the administration and staff. The public speakers expressed the belief that several points of policy and state and federal law were violated. The speakers expressed that the Board is responsible for making any required changes to bring the district in compliance with its own policies and state/federal law, including the addition of new policy and regulation language.

As a district we are guided by our mission, policies and state and federal law. It is important to note that on April 29, 2014 the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights issued a memo that states “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and the OCR (Office of Civil Rights) accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.” There is a clear legal obligation for district administration to prepare teachers to meet the needs of all students.

After careful review of the concerns, the Policy Revision and Review Committee of the Board did not find that use of the discussed handouts at Irving in a staff conversation violated any district policy or regulation, and the district’s existing policies and regulations are in alignment with existing state and federal laws. The district administration and leadership are taking reasonable action to ensure that LPS is in compliance with Title IX, avoids any undue sanctions from the Office of Civil Rights, and most importantly, best serves all of our students.

The materials that were used in staff discussion at Irving Middle School have been removed as it has been determined that they do not stand on their own. Preparing staff, however, to meet the needs of all students in a safe, respectful and welcoming environment remains a priority for LPS.

Policy 6400: Curriculum Decisions

Public speakers expressed that anything a teacher considers impacts the delivery of curriculum to students, so parents have a right to be aware of these considerations or materials and have the right to review any teacher training materials.

The Board’s interpretation of Policy 6400 and the definition of curriculum based on the entirety of the policy is that curricula are those things that happen inside the classroom with students. Professional development and dialogue occurs outside of the classroom and is not interpreted to be curriculum and would not be a part of content made available to parents as curriculum. Based on this interpretation the committee did not feel that this policy was violated nor does it apply.

Policy 6450: Controversial Issues

Public speakers expressed that the handouts that were used at Irving fit the definition of “controversial materials” and LPS should provide advanced notification to parents about controversial issues to allow parents to opt their children out of exposure to these materials.

Policy 6450 covers controversial issues that will be addressed by students in class, so students can develop their critical thinking skills. Since the handouts in question and professional conversations were not intended to be used in the classroom the policy was neither violated nor does it apply. We know that this is an important policy for content in the classroom that is considered to be controversial and one that parents utilize, but the committee did not feel it applied to the materials in question as they were intended for professional development purposes.

Policy 6443: Parental Involvement

Public speakers expressed that parent involvement is critical for the success of children in public schools, and the Lincoln Public Schools is not sufficiently nurturing parental involvement in schools nor following the language on parental involvement contained in state statute. There should be greater transparency, so parents can be involved in opting their children out of assignments and discussions when they feel it is appropriate.

We welcome parent involvement and agree that it is a key to student success. There are many ways that parents are involved in the schools and we recognize that this partnership improves our schools. As we do annually, a public hearing on our Parental Involvement policy was held at the Board meeting on September 23rd and the policy was approved during second reading on October 14th. All elements of this policy align with state and federal law. The existing policy allows parents access to all student curriculum and provides avenues for parents to object to curriculum, suggest changes to curriculum, have their child use alternate curriculum, and completely opt out of curriculum. We agree that these are important ways for parents to be involved and believe that our current policy addresses and encourages parental involvement.

Policy 4850: Personal Freedom

Public speakers expressed that teachers were forced to adopt beliefs or act in a way that was contrary to their personal beliefs.

The policy expresses the right of individuals to hold their own personal beliefs, but also expresses the responsibility of district employees to act in a way that serves the mission of the district.   The professional development was meant to further the mission of the district in meeting the needs of a wide range of students. To date, no staff, either named or anonymous, have expressed any concerns regarding the violation of this policy through either LPS or the Lincoln Education Association (LEA) processes. Additionally, since meeting the needs of transgender students is a legal requirement, the discussion of that topic is not a presentation of one political viewpoint, but following through on a Title IX requirement. If staff have concerns we would encourage them to bring these forward so they may be addressed. Open communication is a necessary first step in resolving concerns.

Policy 6620 and 6621 – District and External Research

Public speakers expressed that outside researchers are doing research on students without parental consent and that researchers are doing research that is motivated to indoctrinate or change the mindset of children without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

For participation in any research practiced in the Lincoln Public Schools, all research requests must, at a minimum, have been approved by the Director of Assessment and Evaluation at LPS and parents must provide their consent and students their assent.

In the particular question of Dr. Swearer’s research, the research protocol received LPS approval, approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University of Nebraska, and all students and parents gave consent and assent to participate. In Dr. Swearer’s research BOTH parents and students were active participants in the research, not just students.

In reviewing the application, implementation and data collection processes, all met the requirements set aside in state and federal law and were properly approved by the University’s IRB and LPS Director of Research. No complaints have been filed by any of the participants in Dr. Swearer’s research. The committee determined that the policy had not been violated.

In conclusion the Policy Review and Revision committee met and reviewed policies where a concern had been raised at recent board meetings. In our review we reaffirmed that these policies support student success, parental involvement and comply with state and federal laws. There were no recommended changes made to the policies that we reviewed. We clarified the intention of the policies in question.

Thanks to my colleagues Ms. Baier and Mrs. Danek for their work on the committee and to various LPS staff for their time and attention devoted to the review of these policies.

Board of Education work session

The Lincoln Board of Education also held a Work Session Tuesday to continue discussion of the Lincoln Public Schools Technology/Instruction plan – called CLASS (Connected Learning Achievement Students Staff). This plan embraces a five-year initiative that includes both the equipment and hardware necessary for instructional technology as well as the necessary staff training and professional development, and connected classrooms and digital curriculum for students.

Don Mayhew, chair of the Board’s Technology Committee, said the Board aims to develop a road map to guide them in developing a general course of action and timeline – beginning with a Board resolution providing affirmation for the Technology Plan.

Jane Stavem, associate superintendent for Instruction, talked about the necessity of community feedback and advice.

A few of the major broad issues Board members began to consider:

  • Emphasizing student achievement:

o   Instruction drives technology

o   Teaching and learning fit, devices last

o   Curriculum supported by technology

  • Sustainability

o   Parameters: budget

o   Plan for people: coaches, tech support

o   Plan for professional development

  • Flexibility

o   Technology

o   Curriculum

o   BYOD: Guaranteed Access

  • Priorities: How fast will we go?

o   Technology commitment

o   Professional development

  • Facilities

o   Building schools for the 21st Century

o   Factor into future building projects

  • Implementation of Multi-Year Plan

o   Board Approval

o   Annual Review


  • Staff development

o   Prioritized

o   Built-in provision for competency


Published: November 11, 2014, Updated: November 11, 2014