Review, revision of FCPS policy manual discussed

Published 4:31 pm Friday, December 9, 2022

The Franklin City School Board recently began making plans to review and potentially revise the extensive Franklin City Public Schools Policy Manual.

COUNCILL’S COMMENT

Ward 2 Board Member Arwen Councill brought a hard copy of the manual to the board’s Nov. 10 meeting and noted how the policies are printed on double-sided paper, and the manual is 2 ½ to 3 inches thick.

“It’s extensive and large and overwhelming, truthfully,” she said. “If somebody really wanted to understand all of our policies, there’s a lot there, and so my thoughts are — and this is not a quick thing by any means but — I would like, in some way, for us to start a process where we can evaluate our policy manual and determine if it’s up to date, if it’s appropriate for the needs of our district, if it is clear, if it is constitutional, if it’s accurate — all of those things.

“There’s some things in here that I found that I have concerns about that I would like to address and potentially modify some of the language, and as a board we can discuss that and we can invite public comment if necessary,” she continued. “I’m not quite sure how to get that process started, but that’s something that I think, as a board, would be really helpful for us as we’re moving into this next phase where we have a lot more opportunity to start fresh.

“I’ve felt like there’s a lot of desire in the community for establishing unity, for really trying to dig deep and work together, and policy is kind of like the foundation of that working together,” she said.

BOARD SUPPORT FOR A REVIEW

Ward 1 Board Member and Board Chair Robert Holt noted that he agreed with Councill.

“I think there’s a lot of effort in the past that’s been done on the governance handbook but not so much the policy manual, and I have some ideas on that,” he said, adding that he would bring those ideas to the board in December.

Ward 6 Board Member Jerry McCreary said he had the idea of a special work session where the board could dedicate a number of hours to reviewing the manual with some preparation having been done ahead of time.

“Possibly board members could have an opportunity to identify some particular policies they want to have them address,” he said.

Holt said, “I think we can put that in a plan.”

McCreary said that someone commented to him about how sometimes organizations will have a written policy, but then what is done in practice may differ from it.

“Sometimes exceptions are made in practice because they’re convenient or they work,” he said.

But he noted that the way the school board works — with staggered memberships — can lead to a newly constituted board possessing a policy manual it had little or no hand in crafting.

This may lead a board to wonder why it is getting into trouble, and McCreary said, “It’s because whatever the current board makeup is, they may have forgotten what the policy says.”

He indicated that a review of the policy manual would be a good opportunity for either the board to realign its actions with the policy or for the policy to be modified.

Councill suggested handling the manual in bite-sized chunks.

“Mr. McCreary and I actually talked about this a couple days ago,” Holt said. “Our idea is simply to assign sections (of the policy manual) to people based on what their interests might be, and we’ve got some ideas on that.”

A PATTERN OF REVIEW

At-Large Board Member and Vice Chair Carrie Johnson noted that an evaluation of the policy manual happened about two years ago, possibly just prior to a couple of the current board members taking their seats on the board.

“There’s a pattern,” Councill acknowledged. “There’s some experience on how to do this effectively and efficiently.”

“That efficient part…,” Johnson said, trailing off as laughter ensued, making it clear that it is challenging to conduct a quick review of the manual. “But effective is important, and I don’t think it should be hastened by any means…”
Councill agreed, saying, “This isn’t something we have to go through fast, just well. I would like to believe that (the manual) doesn’t need to be this big.”

POLICIES THAT COME FROM THE STATE

It was at this point that Johnson pointed out that a lot of the policies in the manual were not generated by FCPS. 

“They come down from (the Virginia School Boards Association), and then we adopt them,” she said. “So a lot of the stuff that’s in there, it might be cross-referenced in more than one section, but it is actually necessary that we adopt policies and such to be in compliance.”

FCPS Director of Organizational Management, Special Programs and Projects Tammy Moore confirmed this was correct.

“So we’re going to have to be very careful when we go through and we talk about modifying or eliminating or combining or anything to make sure that we are following what VSBA guidance has sent down to us, because I don’t believe much of that is our language,” Johnson said.

Holt added, “What VSBA does — and we don’t want to belabor this topic, but — they monitor the legislature, and when laws are made, they adjust policies, they send policies to the school board for our suggested change, and I agree with Carrie — I think 95% of them, maybe 98%, were policies that were totally written by VSBA. Maybe 2% are things that we have tweaked; they’re still legal, but the wording was tweaked a little bit to make it more friendly, I think.”