SHERIDAN – Montana school districts have limited authority to divulge information relating to student and personnel issues, an attorney from the Montana School Board Association told the Sheridan School Board last week at their regular meeting.
Additionally, school boards may not discuss student and personnel discipline matters during a public meeting because they are considered confidential information, said Kris Goss, with the Montana School Board Association.
Goss attended the Dec. 13 board meeting at the request of the trustees. He also discussed public meeting law as well as community interest in confidential information from the district.
At recent school board meetings members of the community have brought forward questions regarding the departure of students and personnel from the school district.
However, the board is prohibited from discussing matters not on the agenda outside of a public comment period at a scheduled board meeting, Goss said.
He also reviewed and fielded questions about Sheridan School District policy 1700 regarding the uniform complaint procedure.
Several members of the public in attendance had questions about how complaints are processed by the school district, as well as whether or not such complaints should be considered a matter of public record. The district has requested that people who feel their rights have been violated by the school board, or district employees use the procedure outlined in policy 1700.
“We have to have policies that are being enforced consistently, and so the best way to do that is to revisit it,” Goss said.
Superintendent Kim Harding also read a recommended public comment policy from the MSBA.
Meetings are required to allow for a comment period for public matters not otherwise specifically listed on the agenda. Individuals who wish to speak during this time must sign in at the meeting with the district clerk and indicate what they wish to talk about. Comments regarding any student, staff member or member of the public are prohibited. Comments should be limited to three minutes in order to ensure efficient completion of meetings, according to the recommended policy.
The board carried a motion to adopt the first reading of the public comment policy, and agreed to amend language in the policy to be approved in the second reading of the policy at the next board meeting.
The board also discussed conducting exit surveys with individuals who have left the school district, such as former teachers and students who have graduated or transferred.
While such a survey would provide a means of gathering information the district could utilize to improve the delivery of educational services, Goss explained that there is a fine line between public and private information.
Survey results would be collected by administration to protect the privacy of students and staff, and identifying characteristics would be redacted before the information was made available to the public.
“The trust needs to be there with staff, administration and trustees to ensure that it is done accurately,” Goss said of the survey. “It’s a first step in making sure that you can achieve that goal of talking to students and parents as to their experiences in the district.”