Last Thursday evening the Heber Springs School Board called a special meeting to address grievances brought by teachers Carol Ballard and Andrea Riggs against Superintendent, Dr. Alan Stauffacher. The meeting room was standing room only.
The meeting began with a presentation by attorney, Jay Bequette, representing school administration. He stated that the grievances by Ballard and Riggs were similar in content.
“Ms. Ballard’s grievance alleges that Dr. Stauffacher raised his voice during a disciplinary meeting. The grievance sites Arkansas code 6-17-106, which prohibits the insult or abuse of a teacher, and alleges a violation of Standard Two of the Arkansas Educator Code of Ethics. The school district’s grievance policy requires that a remedy must be provided upon filing the grievance. Ms. Ballad has requested that the suspension letter be removed from her personnel file and a discontinuation of the abusive conduct. Dr. Stauffacher submitted his response stating that he regretted raising his voice and that his conduct would be completely professional when dealing with Ms. Ballard in the future,” stated Bequette.
Concerning Riggs’ grievance, Bequette further stated that “the grievance is virtually identical to what was in Ms. Ballard’s grievance—a violation of the abuse of teacher statute, a violation of the Educator Code of Ethics, and a third allegation that there is a violation of school board policy 3.26 Licensed Personnel Sexual Harassment and policy 3.41 Licensed Personnel Video Surveillance and Other Monitoring.”
Bequette pointed out that Riggs conceded in her grievance that the violation of policy 3.26 was not intended as a sexual harassment charge. “By her own admission policy 3.26 has no application to this case. She further concedes that policy 3.41 has no application to this grievance.”
The remedy Riggs requested in her grievance was for the resignation or termination of Stauffacher.
“One of the obligation and responsibilities of a school board is to supervise the superintendent. That’s between you and the superintendent. It’s not and should never be a part of a grievance hearing,” said Bequette. “These grievances are fully inappropriate to be heard or decided by this board. The administration would ask that you exercise your discrimination in these matters and determine that the grievances are not grievable and that there should be no evidence heard in regard to the grievances.”
Rebecca Prince, attorney for Ballard and Riggs, began her presentation by reading from school policy 3.25, which defines the school district grievance process.
“A grievance is ‘a claim or concern related to the interpretation, application, or claimed violation of the personnel policies, including salary schedules, federal or state laws and regulations, or terms or conditions of employment, raised by an individual employee of this school district’,” read Prince. “This is where these teachers stand. They have alleged violations of state law, state regulations and of this district’s policy.”
Prince conceded that in Ballard’s case the abuse she alleges occurred during a disciplinary procedure. “Dr. Stauffacher has also denied that these matters are grievable relying on the portion of section 3.25 that states in part, ‘no grievance may be entertained against a supervisor for directing, instructing, reprimanding, or “writing up” an employee under his/her supervision.’ However, think of it this way, a teacher sends a child to the office for paddling properly under our disciplinary procedure. But demean, humiliate, degrade, intimidate that student, we’ve grown will beyond the scope of any proper disciplinary procedure and entered the realm of abuse. While proper acts of discipline may not be grievable, acts of abuse most certainly are.”
In the Riggs grievance, Prince noted that the abusive incident didn’t occur during a disciplinary action. “This was simply an incident where the two of them were having a conversation and he completely lost his temper and self-control.”
Prince concluded her presentation by that “it’s the district’s policy to provide an academic and work environment that is respectful and dignified. These teachers have been the victims of abuse, unethical and unprofessional treatment.”
Rick Gardner, President of the School Board, questioned Baquette as to the other entities that could investigate and remedy the allegations of abuse of a teacher. “We’ve got the policy and then we’ve got this sub-section and if I remember, correctly, there’s a part of this that addresses the ethical side of that?”
“The Arkansas Code sub-section that addresses the abuse or insult of a teacher. Violations of the code of ethics by licensed personnel in the state of Arkansas…those complaints are investigated by the Professional Licensure Standards Board. There’s a sub-committee made up of people, who are administratively throughout the state and that sit on that committee to review the investigations performed by that board’s staff. They would determine if the code of ethics had been violated by a licensed educator in the state,” explained Bequette.
Prince argued that their school policy defined a grievance was to be resolved by the board.
“Are you saying that he violated state law?” asked Richard Whybrew, Board Secretary.
“I’m saying he violated this district’s policy which incorporates state law. The insult and abuse that the teachers sent you have been incorporated in your policy. In fact it appears in section 3.17 of your policy,” responded Prince.
Judy Crowder asked Prince if the teachers had called the police when the abuse occurred. “She did not because this is a remedy that is afforded to her under the grievance policy,” answered Prince.
After further discussion, Gardner asked if a motion would be made to vote on whether the grievances were grievable. Whybrew made the motion and it was seconded by Gary Redd, board Vice-President. In a voice vote there were four ayes and one no vote from Judy Crowder. The motion passed and the board adjourned.