Green Bay nixes independent hearing officer for expulsion hearings
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – For the third time in six years, Brenda Warren, school board president brought forward the idea of hiring an independent hearing officer for student expulsion hearings at the Jan. 20, board meeting, and again the idea was rejected, at least for now.
“I decided to bring it up again, partly because of the conversation we had about board salary,” Warren said. “Part of our conversation was how can we make being a board member more appealing, or more accessible to people who have children or demanding jobs and all of those things. And it occurred to me when I was talking to someone who was considering becoming a board member, one of the things I had to add on the list was we also have expulsion hearings that come up periodically.”
Warren said she is concerned about conflicts when it comes to scheduling expulsion hearings.
“My concern is, what happens when we get to the point when we have four board members who have inflexible job situations and they can’t just schedule a two-hour spot at the last minute to come to an expulsion hearing?” she said.
The board is required by law to have at least four members present for a hearing, and it must be held within a certain time frame.
If the board were to go this route, an officer would preside over expulsion hearings.
If the hearing officer orders the student’s expulsion, the school board would be required to review the order within 30 days.
The board would have the authority to approve, reverse or modify the hearing officer’s order.
There were mixed opinions from the board.
“Fundamentally, I personally think it’s a valuable experience to attend the reentry or expulsion hearings,” said Trustee Eric Vanden Heuvel. “However, I’ve started to see a negative impact on our families and our ability to schedule. We had one the other day where this parent that wanted their kid to get reinstated. And it’s on the seven of us because we can’t find a time where four of us can get together and get that kid back in the district. That’s terrible service to our families.”
Others didn’t think the board as a whole has made every effort to make things work.
“I would prefer to see what we could do with scheduling first,” said Board Vice President Andrew Becker. “While I’m not as opposed to a hearing officer as I once was, now that I understand that the board has a final say in every case, I feel to take that step I would need to know that we’ve tried everything first and trying something different with scheduling is a start.”
Board members agreed to work at keeping the lines of communication open with staff who schedule the hearings and be more flexible with scheduling.
The topic will be reexamined as needed if the scheduling problem continues.
In the meantime, the board authorized district staff to issue a Request for Applications (RFA) to solicit applications for the hearing officer position.
During the 2019-20 school year, there were 20 expulsion hearings and eight re-entry meetings.
So for this year, there have been three hearings, with one cancellation, and nine re-entry meetings.
Special education open enrollment availability
The board voted 6-1 in favor of limiting the open enrollment availability for special education spots within the district.
“My feelings about this issue are not changed,” Becker said. “I’m not in favor of closing special education open enrollment. I think if we get more people coming in, we just deal with it and do what we need to do. Yes, I do think we could handle it.”
Other board members had different thoughts this year.
“This is a terrible situation that districts are asked to make a decision on this,” said Trustee Kristina Shelton. “I think about the people who want to come to our district, I think about families that want to keep their kids together, I think about friends and community members that will be upset by this vote. But I also think to about the teachers and students we already had that we need to support.”
The district currently has 17 emergency-licensed teachers in the special education department this year.
Claudia Henrickson, executive director of Special Education and Pupil Services for the district, said five additional staff members should be added soon on emergency licenses, but there are still two special education programs unstaffed.