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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 25, 2009

Applies to 1,000 workers
GCSD drafts policy to prevent harassment

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — “We put action behind what we say we believe in,” said Superintendent John McGuire when asked why the district has developed a new policy on employee harassment.

He told The Enterprise that the new policy was not prompted by problems last year in the high school social studies department where a young gay teacher complained of harassment, and later other teachers said the complainant himself was guilty of inappropriate comments and behavior.

Rather, McGuire said, the impetus came from “advice of counsel”; the school’s lawyer drafted a policy that was distinct from the anti-bullying policy for students. Lin Severance, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, then took the “long and wordy” draft, said Cathy Barber, the school board member who chairs the policy committee, and “put it in Guilderland style.”

The 10-page draft states that the district will “provide an employment environment free from discrimination and harassment based on race, color, gender, creed, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or marital status.”

Severance told the board at its Tuesday night meeting that the draft “gives employees as much information as they could possibly ask for.” She said she was eager to begin training staff.

The board is slated to adopt the policy at its next meeting, on July 6.

Board President Richard Weisz said, “I’d like to get comments from the people who have to live with the policy in case we missed something.” He said the board vote could be pushed back from July 6 if need be.

McGuire said yesterday that the district currently has 1,037 employees and that training on the new policy, once adopted, will take place in various ways, including as part of the orientation sessions for new staff, in workshops, and through disseminating the policy.

In his decades as an educator, McGuire said, he has found it “surprising” how often people are unaware of what constitutes harassment. Giving an example from another district where he had worked, McGuire said secondary students were asked if they had experienced harassment and the overwhelming majority answered no. However, when they were given specific examples, he said. “We got a lot of ‘yes’ es.”

The Guilderland policy draft under “Prohibited Behavior” includes a list of examples such as using slurs, or telling derogatory jokes or stories, or displaying graffiti, or making degrading comments about a person or his or her appearance based on race, color, gender, creed, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or marital status. It also lists sending or displaying electronic images that are pornographic, profane, lewd, or inappropriate for a professional environment as well as demeaning or criticizing, sabotaging or interfering with work, or threatening or intimidating based on those same categories.

In the last year at Guilderland, McGuire estimated there have been six to eight complaints from employees of alleged incidents that “rose to the district level.”

“That strikes me as a lot,” he said, noting it’s important to raise the “level of awareness.”

The new policy requires the victim to put his or her complaint in writing. It encourages prompt reporting and it stresses that confronting an offender is not required.

The policy draft says that the investigation will be conducted by the district’s compliance officers, who are listed as Severance and the assistant superintendent for business, Neil Sanders; the district’s legal counsel; “and/or other impartial persons” designated by the superintendent.

The policy states that the district’s primary goal is prevention. “While disciplinary action may be appropriate in certain instances,” it says, “punitive measures are not the exclusive means for responding to prohibited discrimination.”

Asked what the range of responses may be, McGuire said, “The ultimate end in terms of severity would be dismissal.” He noted that would be an exceptional case.

“At the other end,” he said, “is consciousness-raising and an apology.”

McGuire added, “Sometimes people just want to hear you say you’re sorry and it won’t happen again. Victims just often want to be recognized and treated decently.”

He concluded of the proposed policy, “This is one more example of this school district’s commitment to creating a positive and welcoming environment for everyone.”

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Heard from resident Bill Toffenetti concerns about lack of transportation for summer-school students.

“It’s tough enough for parents to find out in June their kids need summer school,” he said after the meeting. “A lot of parents don’t have time to drive their kids back and forth.”

School board member Barbara Fraterrigo raised the issue again at the end of the meeting. Superintendent John McGuire said the district could consider summer transportation as part of the budget process for the 2010-11 school year but warned it would depend on the economy. He also wondered if the Capital District Transportation Authority might be enticed to “start a circuit to serve summer-school families”;

— Heard from Sanders about work already underway as well as work planned for this summer at each of the district’s five elementary schools as part of a $27 million project.

“We’re asking people not to come to the elementary schools,” he said, explaining there are “hard-hat only” construction zones.

The elementary principals will be relocated to Farnsworth Middle School for the summer; parents will be able to contact them there;

— Heard that Linda Mossop, food services director, and her staff earned an honorable mention from the state’s Office of General Services Division of Food Distribution and Warehousing for the 2009 Best Practices Award. The $500 award money will be spent on school-lunch related equipment, said Sanders;

— Agreed that next year’s graduation ceremony should be held at the SEFCU Arena at the University at Albany. In recent years, the ceremony has been held on Sundays at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, where limited seating has been a problem.

A committee headed by high school Principal Brian McCann recommended the change in venue and a switch back to Saturday. Board members were enthusiastic about the change so McCann is to secure a Saturday afternoon spot at the university for next year;

— Heard congratulations from Superintendent John McGuire for the girls’ lacrosse team, which missed being Section II state champions by one goal — termed “at once heart-breaking and celebratory” by McGuire.

“They’ve already started practicing” for next year, said board member Colleen O’Connell, who has a daughter on the team.

“The season never ends,” said McGuire;

— Awarded 15 bids as recommended by Sanders for school lunch items, facilities supplies, instructional supplies, nurses’ supplies, and copy paper.

Sanders credited Clifford Nooney, superintendent for buildings and grounds, and Fred Tresselt, recycling coordinator, with the $56,000 reduction in garbage fees, down from nearly $97,000. He attributed the savings to changes in Dumpster sizes and the pick-up schedule as well as the move to single-stream recycling, where items like glass and cardboard are no longer in separate bins.

Sanders concluded of the $5,000 stipend for the recently-created post of recycling coordinator, “I think we got our money back, plus some”;

— Accepted the annual update of the financial risk assessment from Questar III Board of Cooperative Educational Services for the fiscal year ending June 30, as recommended by the board’s audit committee.

“Over the past three years, we’ve tried to identify the areas in which our internal procedures could be tightened up,” said Weisz, who chairs the audit committee;

— Accepted a 2004 Stefan Ulrich violin from Carol Smith.

“That’s a real significant gift,” said Weisz;

— Approved three state-required plans that must be updated and approved annually by the board. The plans are for academic intervention services to help struggling students, for professional development to train staff, and for school safety;

— Approved the creation of a woodworkers’ club and a French club;

— Heard a report from Fraterrigo on a May 7 Guilderland Center hamlet meeting where residents expressed safety concerns due to speeding traffic and lack of sidewalks. (For the full story, go online to altamontenterprise@csdsl.net under Guilderland archives for May 14);

— Heard a request from Fraterrigo to get more information on a service that would follow-up on how Guilderland students fared after graduation. McGuire said he’d bring the board such information; and

— Met in executive session to discuss abolition of positions; to get an update on negotiations with the Guilderland Office Workers’ Association; to review a contract; and to get a personnel update.

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