Unit 50 Committee Discusses Policy Changes | Local News
A new Teutopolis Unit 50 school board committee this week discussed changes to board policy brought about by the new legislation.
The new committee, made up of three board members — Troy Ozenkoski, Erin Ordner and Traci Martin — spent more than two hours discussing more than 300 pages of changes, from which the board is required by law to the state to enact next year. The scope of the changes is greater than in previous years, which creates its own challenges for the entire board and Superintendent Matt Sturgeon, who chaired Monday’s meeting.
Due to major omnibus bills passed by the Illinois General Assembly, board policy changes ran the gamut, from vital – changes to Erin’s law, for example – to the mundane – 30 minute game for elementary school students – to the esoteric – adding forensic speech teams to language arts requirements. The board’s job is to find a local context for the new rules and apply it appropriately.
“Different policies, like different laws, will impact students, staff, and districts in different ways and based on their local contexts,” Sturgeon said. “Each local school board is responsible for reviewing the IASB documents, consulting with its own legal counsel, and applying any updates necessary for its respective local context.”
The lively board discussion proved vital to the committee members. Ozenkoski pointed out that the many changes made by the legislature made it difficult for them to provide a rubber stamp without assessing the context for the people of Teutopolis.
“There were over 100 changes,” Ozenkoski said. “Matt is supposed to review and make recommendations to us, but it seems like there’s an awful lot that we’re supposed to approve in one board meeting. It seemed overwhelming, with all that has happened recently, we realize that our board policy is extremely important and we need to monitor it a bit more. It’s very confusing with all the addendums that have been added to it over time.
A big point of contention for the committee was the many changes the legislature made to the curriculum for students across the state. The General Assembly passed new legislation providing guidance on media literacy, Asian American history, opioid prevention, proper traffic check etiquette, citizenship processes, grooming and other subjects of sex education, as well as religion and faith. The committee was concerned about the lack of elaborate material on the topics – particularly in relation to sex education – which could be used to guide personnel policy.
“To be such a big deal (and not be developed) is crazy,” Ordner said during the meeting.
With the state adopting new standards for sex education — and without the materials needed to do so in a way that works for the district — Sturgeon wanted the district to maintain its current policy while waiting for the materials. Districts are not required to undertake the new program unless they choose to do so, and the District plans to put it on hold for the time being.
Further discussions of the new rules will continue with the full board in the coming months, giving the board a major outlet for local control.
“This is a great example of why local elected officials are best placed to enact, enforce and oversee the management and governance of their local district schools,” Sturgeon said.
While this is the committee’s first formal meeting with Sturgeon leading the district, it’s not a new concept for them – with former boards and superintendents using the tool to resolve collective bargaining issues, finance and facilities. The current superintendent likes the idea of having such committees, not just as a tool for local oversight, but as a tool to develop better policy that impacts students, staff and parents.
“Committees provide an opportunity for appointed members to gather information and make recommendations to the school board as a whole for possible future action,” Sturgeon said. “Similar to study sessions or retreats, these committee meetings can be used to devote more time to specific issues outside of recurring Council business.”