By Terry Dean
A controversial policy regarding classroom visitations by parents and other adults in District 97 was approved by the school board, April 12, despite concerns from special needs parents who felt the policy was too restrictive.
In unanimously approving the measure last Tuesday, the board and administration stressed that changes were made to Policy 9150 in response to those concerns. Rance Clouser, a board member and co-chair of the policy committee, addressed specific areas during the discussion.
Clouser said this and many other district policies are aligned with state law. That was a concern of parents, arguing that the policy should specifically reference Illinois Public Act 09-0657, which addresses their right to observe the classroom or to hire someone to do so.
"The law typically does include much more detail than a policy, and it is not typically reflected verbatim in each of our policies," Clouser said. "So that's the reason why we do not restate the public act within the policy; and as a note to that — the law does trump policy. So we cannot enforce, as a district, a policy that violates the law."
Clouser added that the district's policy was actually less restrictive than the law in certain areas. For instance, the district does not require visitors to make a written request to the principal concerning the time and length of a visit, as the law states.
Another concern from parents was the time limit of 40 minutes per visit, though more time can be requested in advance. Clouser explained that the 40 minutes was more of a guideline concerning classroom visits.
"It's what we're asking visitors to abide by," he said. "The policy does contain language on the handling of those exceptions, such as visits of longer duration, and visitation requests that are provided with 24-hour notice."
Clouser said the district understood that families of children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would likely need longer than 40 minutes in their child's classroom.
The policy, Clouser noted, also states that teachers should notify the principal of classroom visits, not seek his or her permission, as some parents had opposed.
Board member and policy committee Co-Chair James Gates noted that some parents have claimed they were denied a visit. Gates asked the administration to document or keep records of such denials.
"There's been a lot of anecdotal things, but I'd like to see first-hand that visitation is being provided on a reasonable access and that the board is ensured that this policy is being implemented properly," Gates said.
"As people step to this mic and reference denials and delay," Gates added, "I want to be responsive to it, but I also don't want to be over-reactive to it. It's all anecdotal until we have some data."
Supt. Albert Roberts said there is a record kept at each building of who enters. But Roberts added that he's unsure what format exists concerning documenting denials.
"I'll need to see what the present practice is and what forms are used," he said.