Green Bay to vote on independent hearing officer
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay school board is once again considering whether or not to hire an independent hearing officer for student expulsion hearings.
The board discussed the topic at its meeting Monday, Jan. 25, the fourth time it’s been on the board table in the last six years.
“This is a continuation of a conversation that had taken place with the board (last year),” said Superintendent Steve Murley. “It’s been a while in terms of returning it to the board for consideration. Obviously, it has not been a significant issue before us because many of the things that might have given rise to these types of activities resulting in the need for this type of action have not occurred while we have been off-site.”
Two main drivers behind bringing up the topic yet again include scheduling conflicts with trustees and Title IX requirements in regards to expulsion hearings, which involve sexual assault or harassment allegations.
“One thing you need to understand for a Title IX hearing, the rules of evidence are extremely, extremely different,” said Ellen Krueger, student discrimination, discipline and Title IX coordinator. “A lot of the questions that you may be able to ask during an expulsion hearing will not be able to be asked if it is a Title IX hearing. There are very specific rules of evidence, as to what is relevant. You are going to find there may be a lot of questions that you want to ask, personal to a student, that you will not be able to ask in a Title IX hearing.”
Krueger said there are different standards depending on the reason for the expulsion hearing.
“It will look a lot different if they are coming forward for expulsion, for example, bringing a gun onto school premises versus someone who is being accused of sexually assaulting another student,” she said. “They are going to look extremely different. I know a lot of times you want to ask questions that get to the heart of the student’s family and their matter and what they are going through, you will not be able to ask that under a Title IX hearing.”
The changes made by the Trump Administration to Title IX went into effect last summer.
Krueger said it is unknown at this time if, and if so, when, changes will happen under the Biden administration.
If the board were to go this route, an independent hearing officer would preside over expulsion hearings.
If the IHO recommends an 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.
“It is still providing all of those protections to students,” said Melissa Thiel Collar, the district’s legal counsel. “It is still allowing the board to make the ultimate decision. It is just simply a way to recognize all the new requirements that are placed on school boards with respect to Title IX and providing a process that’s compliant with the law and still affording students the due process protections. This is just a way to solve the current issue that we’re facing with Title IX.”
The board is required by law to have at least four members present for an expulsion hearing, and the hearing must be held within a certain time frame.
In the past, the district has run into issues when scheduling hearings because of board member availability, in some cases delaying the process for students and families.
“I have seen time and time and time again in my two years students and their families being put off by the availability of board members,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, board president. “This also applies to readmittance hearings, I would imagine. Just two weeks ago we had a student who had been expelled who was asking to come back into the district. That student’s readmittance got pushed back by three weeks because there was no availability to get four board members to come and accept that student back to our district. So you want to talk about an experience, yes, I’m concerned that the right decisions are being made. But I feel good about the explanation we got from Melissa and Ellen, we will be able to have that. I think what we are doing right not in our district is no better than what (they) are describing.”
Trustee Rhonda Sitnikau said she is worried an independent hearing officer wouldn’t provide the same equity to students and families that the board does.
“This feels like we are just checking a box, but it doesn’t seem like it is going to be fair and equitable for families at all,” she said.
If the board decides to continue presiding over expulsion hearings themselves, trustees would need to participate in an 8-10 hour training to be qualified to preside over Title IX hearings.
The board is set to vote on the hiring at its meeting Monday, Feb. 8.
If passed, it would affect the rest of this school year only.
If the board chooses to continue using an independent hearing officer, another vote would need to be taken for the 2021-22 school year.
“Just on its face, whether or not you agree with the law or you think the law is going to change, our legal experts in the district are coming forward saying we are not in compliance, and we need to do something,” Vanden Heuvel said. “That by itself should be enough to at least support this knowing that it is a temporary decision.”
The district conducted a request for applications process last year at the board’s direction and received three interested applicants.
Thiel Collar said any of the three would be qualified to serve as an independent hearing officer for the district.