Hearing requested with county superintendent over Sheridan schools controversy

Last week Madison County school superintendent Judi Osborn received a two requests for a controversy appeal and hearing from concerned Sheridan citizens, one alleging that the district superintendent violated the Montana Open Meeting Act and the other claiming that board of trustees and superintendent are in violation of district policy.

Nearly 20 signatures from local residents accompanied each complaint that claims a request for a specific item be placed on the agenda for the January 10, 2012 school board meeting was ignored.

The documents filed with Osborn last week say that citizens filed a petition with Harding and the school board requesting that Springboard math curriculum be placed on the meeting agenda for Jan. 10. The documents filed with Osborn say this petition was mailed to the board and Harding on Dec. 27 but the request was not honored nor was there any communication from trustees or the superintendent in response to the petition.

The petition for Springboard math curriculum to be placed on the public meeting agenda was in response to a December memo issued by Harding to the school board members regarding the Springboard math curriculum. The memo outlines the progression of the school districts math curriculum for grades 5-12. In the memo Harding states her opinion that the curriculum in place “will enable our students to meet the very rigorous college and career ready standards.”

The documents and petition filed with Osborn claim this memo represents a violation the Montana Open Meeting Act, which states that “public boards, commissions, councils, and other public agencies in this state exist to aid in the conduct of the peoples’ business. It is the intent of this part that actions and deliberations of all public agencies shall be conducted openly.”

Sheridan Public School District Policy 2120 states the school board is “responsible for curriculum adoption and must approve all significant changes, including the adoption of new textbooks and new courses, before such changes are made.”

Montana Code Annotated 20-4-402 outlines the duties of the district superintendent to include the development and recommendation of courses of instruction, as well as selection and submission of textbooks, to the school board for its consideration and approval. MCA 20-7-602 reiterates that the selection of textbooks is by the district superintendent or school principal are subject to the approval of the trustees, according to the petition and documents filed with Osborn.

While Osborn confirmed receipt of the request for controversy appeal and hearing, she declined any further comment on the matter.

The procedure for handling controversy appeals and hearings is outlined by MCA 20-3-210 and states:

“The county superintendent shall hear the appeal and take testimony in order to determine the facts related to the controversy and may administer oaths to the witnesses that testify at the hearing. The county superintendent shall prepare a written transcript of the hearing proceedings. The decision on the matter of controversy that is made by the county superintendent must be based upon the facts established at the hearing.”

The decision of the county superintendent may be appealed to the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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