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Parents file petition against grade-alike decision

Friday, December 23, 2011

Formal opposition to the Spencer school board's Nov. 22 decision to move to an elementary grade-alike structure, starting with the 2012-13 year, has been filed with the State Board of Education.

James and Alison Herman, Michael and Shelley Schoning, Leah Zittritsch, Karee Muilenburg, Dustin Blume and Jamie Rusk-Blume, all of Spencer, and Jesse and Serena Rustad, of Everly, filed the appeal, received Thursday in Des Moines.

The parents claim their 12 children are among the students who will be affected by the board's unanimous decision to move from neighborhood schools to the board-approved elementary reconfiguration.

As approved, the grade-alike configuration would have Johnson Elementary hosting sections of Child's Garden, preschool, KinderKids, kindergarten and first grade students. Fairview Elementary would house second and third grade students, and Lincoln Elementary would serve as the locale for fourth and fifth grade Spencer students. Each school building would also host its own special education population.

The appellants claim the board violated procedural guidelines laid out in Iowa Administrative Code, and would like last month's decision overturned.

Their list of 10 allegations against the board include: not providing a timeline for the process of making a decision; no additional notifications other than brief listings in board agenda and meeting minutes; the district newsletter, "The Source," not mentioning a study committee was formed until after its Nov. 22 decision; public meeting times not being published on the district's website; and only general information being sent home with elementary students about the public meetings.

Additional allegations against the board, as outlined in their affidavits, include:

* "All communication directly from the board or the school administration was minimized and in general terms so that many parents were not aware of what was taking place."

* "There was no real research done to the benefits of moving to a grade-alike school system. The committee merely brainstormed and discussed pros and cons from their point-of-view."

* "There is no cost analysis of this change. In the presentation to the community, it was stated that there may be some initial expenses but the district does not anticipate any major expenses with this change."

* "Transportation will be required between schools. There is no analysis of the costs involved or the number of students that would be bused. There is a preliminary plan that uses only current buses, but there is no discussion of the actual usage or costs."

* "Staff assignments between the three buildings have not been determined. Program changes, facility changes, not determined. A committee is being formed to start to plan how this will happen and how it will work to begin in January 2012."

According to Staci Hupp, communications director for the Iowa Department of Education, Administrative Law Judge Carol Greta will set a hearing. The evidentiary hearing, whether it's telephonic or in person, must be limited to only that evidence the local school board considered.

Based on that, Greta will write a proposed decision.

"That decision, by law, has to be in the two parties' hands a minimum of 20 days before the meeting at which the State Board meets to decide whether to make the decision a final decision," Hupp explained. "Their next meeting is Jan. 26."

"The (evidentiary) hearing is going to be, at the earliest, mid to late January, which means the State Board would not see this until their meeting on March 29," she continued. "So, that would be the earliest possible time that the parties will have a final decision."

The yardstick Greta will use to determine the case is called an "abuse of discretion standard," which looks at whether a reasonable person could have found sufficient evidence to come to the same conclusion reached by the school district, Hupp said.

A parallel case that fell under the same abuse of discretion standard was a July 2010 appeal filed by Tanner and Jennifer Carlson against the Prairie Valley Community School District. The Carlsons sought reversal of a March 22, 2010, decision by their local school board to close the Prairie Valley elementary building.

A final decision by Greta and the State Board of Education affirmed the Prairie Valley board's ruling to close its elementary school.

"There is no fraud and no abuse of discretion here," their 2010 ruling stated. "The local school board carefully studied the issue and did not act in an arbitrary, unreasonable, irrational manner. The local board made a decision that it has authority to make, and the board made that decision lawfully."

An earlier case, in which a local board's decision to move third through fifth grade students from one attendance center to another, was Charity Mueggenberg versus the Clay Central-Everly Community School District. In it, an April 2007 grade-realignment decision by the CC-E board was overturned because the board did not follow proper procedures.


Comments
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I commend these folks for taking action.

-- Posted by financeman on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 8:47 AM

I understand the disadvantages to this new system from a parent standpoint for transportation issues and having some of your children split up in different buildings. However, I think we need to put our selfish attitudes aside and see what is best for the children!! I am not saying that this is the right decision however any complaint I have heard against this never has anything to do with the child, it is always from the Parent's standpoint on how it is going to be harder for them!! There are several other communities that have this in place and have for a while and it is successful, I think in the end it will be the best decision for the education of our kids even though I am bummed my boys will be split up also.

-- Posted by AMPED88 on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 10:00 AM

I don't see anything in the above article, discussing this appeal, that talks about the inconvenience of this change for the parents.

-- Posted by a-thought-or-two on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 10:10 AM

It's more than being about the inconvenience. It's about having your kids go to school together and be there for each other. It's about behavior modeling. It's about being in classes with neighbor kids who they are friend with. It's about the fact that once you stick all the kids from the same grades together it's going to get cliquey real fast.

More than that it's about the simple fact that the committee presented absolutely no research showing how it will be better. They just said teacher collaboration over and over. Just a guess here but I think the teachers can collaborate already at one of the many in-service days they have without having to be in the same building.

The parents didn't want this but they did it anyway. They are elected by and work for the parents and should have listened.

Not one of these board members has a kid in elemetary school. One even sends theirs to private school where there is no grade alike.

-- Posted by financeman on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 10:38 AM

Good for them. These people clearly had their mind set on something and have ignored reality time and again in any "discussion" about this topic, and hopefully this comes down on the side of the petitioners who are actually using reason and intelligence in their opposition, unlike the administration and board who apparently don't find ironic their lack of intelligent decision making on a matter of education.

-- Posted by jlees on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 10:53 AM

I commend parents for taking this action into their own hands. Who can sign the petition, and where is it? I know many people who would be interested in backing elementary parents 100%.

-- Posted by lyndah1 on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 11:01 AM

Well said, financeman! I pray the State board sides with those that filed the appeal, and gets rid of this ludicrous decision by the Spencer school board! Just remember, we (the public) can "fire" (not elect) you especially if you continue to make these absurd decisions! =)

-- Posted by Funkyjavagirl on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 11:09 AM

"Way to go" I'm in. I will help you get that petition going around town. The school board will see that "it ain't over"...The school board may have dismissed us at the meetings, but I guarantee they will not ignore the Law. You see, we are going to go about this process of over-turning the school board's decision..THE RIGHT WAY!! Believe me, this is about to get even more interesting!!

-- Posted by MotherTiger on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 12:06 PM

@financeman... Why doesn't the school board see it that way?? They are supposed to be so 'educated'. Why isn't there any proof shown that this works? Because it doesn't. Spencer's scores are better than Webster City & Algona who has been doing this for 15 yrs, so they should have it mastered by now.

@lyndah1 & MotherTiger .... there is an email you can contact for more information. It's nogradealike@gmail.com. Send a message and give your user name from here. Its good to hear there are more parents out there that want to help!!

-- Posted by parent_of_3 on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 1:32 PM

Absolute kudos to this group of caring parents. So many will support you so thank you for including that email address.

It's heart-warming to know that there are people that aren't going to sit back and take it when an unfair school board does NOT represent the people who elected them.

-- Posted by spencer-gma on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 3:30 PM

I'm all for the petitioners. The school board has decided that this is a great thing and the teachers will be better off. Why they didn't are was how it failed a few years back and then go and do what they want. I have talked to many people and have not heard one person that thinks its a hood idea. Hope the petitioners win this battle.

-- Posted by buss22 on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 5:08 PM

The school board should hang theirs heads in shame. This type of decision needs to be voted on by the general public. Everyone of them needs to be pulled off the board ASAP.

-- Posted by Parent of Two on Sat, Dec 24, 2011, at 11:39 AM

Everybody who feels the Spencer school board slid this grade-alike fiasco under the table, go to nogradealike@gmail.com and let your voices be heard! There is power in numbers...

-- Posted by MotherTiger on Sat, Dec 24, 2011, at 2:24 PM

I have said this a couple of times but here I go again, If you really want to get this settled dont send your kids back to school after christams break. If they dont have enough attendance they have to cancel school.

-- Posted by spencer lover on Sat, Dec 24, 2011, at 4:02 PM

spencer lover: While I fully 100% support the movement against gradealike, I can't believe that anyone, other than you, would want school cancelled. How does that help or change anything?

And...it's not going to happen.

-- Posted by spencer-gma on Sat, Dec 24, 2011, at 6:24 PM

I am loving to see that there are more parents that are willing to not sit back and let someone else decide what is best for our kids without giving us the facts we want, our questions answered, and adequate time and notification that these meetings are even taking place!I'm so glad more people are afraid to stand up and voice their opinions!

-- Posted by AshlyMeyer on Sun, Dec 25, 2011, at 9:46 PM

Why would you want to have school cancelled for the day? They just have to make it up later. Besides that isn't teaching your children anything.

-- Posted by raschoolrocks on Tue, Dec 27, 2011, at 5:17 PM

I don't think any kind of walk out really teaches our children anything about the right way to stand up for what they think is right. Having said that, if a group was going to do such a thing, I think a mass of requests for open enrollment to the nearest neighboring district would send a message. I think the open enrollment requests are due next month...

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Thu, Dec 29, 2011, at 5:53 PM

Maybe I should clarify that I wasn't agreeing with a walk out either. I am agreeing with parents voicing their opinion and demanding to be heard! I think this issue is not only about the grade alike change, but in how they went about the change.

-- Posted by AshlyMeyer on Fri, Dec 30, 2011, at 7:42 PM


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