Mike Bitz: Patron complaints: A ‘how to’
Occasionally I receive phone calls from concerned parents who have a complaint about an employee of the Mandan School District or about a district program or policy. Patron complaints are an important part of school improvement. I respect the right of these parents to voice their concern. However, in order to follow school board policy, I have to redirect their complaint to the source.
It is also important to note that state law requires the Mandan School Board to have separate policies for non-personnel-related complaints and complaints about school employees. I thought it might be a good idea for me to write a “how to” article for patron complaints.
Program and policy complaints
Constructive criticism of the school is welcomed by the Mandan School District whenever it is motivated by a sincere desire to improve the quality of the educational program or to equip our employees to do their jobs more effectively. Since individual board members have no authority to resolve complaints, other than by formal board action, administrators are expected to follow up on all complaint referrals and when appropriate, to advise the board members of the nature of the complaint and the action taken.
Anonymous complaints provide no avenue for response or redress of the complaint. An unsigned complaint will not be read or acted upon at any meeting of the board and anonymous telephone complaints will not be brought to the board by any individual board member, administrator or other employee.
Complaints should be resolved at the lowest possible level of authority. If resolution of the problem seems unlikely at the building level, either party is encouraged to bring the matter to the superintendent for review.
If all other remedies have been exhausted, and a non-personnel-related complaint has not been satisfactorily resolved, the complainant may request that the matter be placed on the agenda of the next regular meeting of the board.
Complaints about personnel
State law requires school districts to have a separate policy regarding complaints about personnel. The procedure in place is designed to minimize the risk of a possible action for libel or slander and to retain the impartiality of the board, in the event that the employee is brought before the board for a non-renewal or discharge hearing. If the board hears information prior to a discharge hearing, a court may rule that it was prejudiced going into the hearing and was unable to make a “fair” decision.
If patrons have a complaint about a teacher or coach in the Mandan School District, they are encouraged to visit with that employee to see if they can resolve the dispute among themselves. I know many parents are afraid that if they question a teacher or coach, the teacher or coach will “take it out” on their son or daughter. I have faith in the employees of the Mandan School District and I believe they will act professionally in their dealings with students and parents. If the complaint cannot be resolved by meeting with the teacher or coach, patrons are encouraged to direct the complaint to the building principal or other supervisor directly responsible for the supervision of that employee. If the parent is not satisfied with the handling of the complaint, the matter can be appealed to the superintendent for final resolution. Complaints about the superintendent that cannot be resolved by meeting with the superintendent should be directed to the school board president, who shall follow the same procedure.
These policies are designed to provide an effective procedure for responding to complaints in a manner that is in the best interest of promoting better educational opportunities for children. If you have a complaint or concern and are not sure how to resolve it, give me a call.
Hopefully, this has been informative. If you have topics or items that you would like me to discuss in future columns, or you would like to comment on this column, please call me at the school (751-6500) or email me at Mike.Bitz@msd1.org with your thoughts and ideas.