At its July 30 work session, the Polk County School Board discussed proposed policy revisions pertaining to the retention of records created during student and employee harassment or discrimination investigations.
To view the entire discussion, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZx0JzmjuFI.
This discussion was also covered in a local news story.
Polk County Public Schools is providing additional information to clarify the proposed policy revisions and what they will mean during the course of day-to-day work at the school district.
District staff would like to reassure employees, parents and the community that evidence in student and employee investigations is not — and will not — be destroyed.
School Board policies 2260 and 3122 address investigations of harassment and discrimination. These policies can be found here: https://go.boarddocs.com/fl/polk/Board.nsf/Public?open&id=policies. Several other policies also include language regarding records retention.
At the July 30 work session, Director of Legislative Affairs & Policy Wendy Dodge presented proposed updates to these polices. The updated versions included recommended language from Neola, an educational consulting firm. PCPS and school districts across the country contract with Neola to keep their policies up-to-date and in accordance with federal and state law.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights recently issued new requirements regarding what records must be retained as part of harassment and discrimination investigations involving students and employees.
“Our current policies were silent on what records to retain,” Dodge said. “Neola recommended language in order for us to be compliant with the new recommendations and requirements from the USDOE Office of Civil Rights.”
Neola provides both required and optional language as part of all of its policy updates. District staff members reviewed the proposed language regarding harassment and discrimination investigations, to determine what optional language should be adopted. Their recommendations were presented to the School Board on July 30.
For instance, Neola’s required language states that school districts must retain “all written reports/allegations/complaints/statements” related to harassment and discrimination investigations. Assistant Superintendent of Learning Support Kimberly Steinke recommended not adopting optional language that specifically lists “written witness statements” to avoid redundancy. She made the same recommendation for optional language that listed “narratives of, notes from, or audio, video, or digital recordings of witness statements; all documentary evidence; emails, texts or social media posts pertaining to the investigation.”
“Also, if we kept the recommended but not required language, I feared it would be interpreted that we would then be required to gather those items as part of an investigation, even if they might not be necessary for investigative purposes,” Steinke said.
Steinke reiterated during work session that any and all materials gathered during the course of a student harassment or discrimination investigation would not be destroyed.
“If we decided to gather those items on our own, we would never dispose of them,” she said.
“I simply do not want us to be required to gather things that are irrelevant to a case simply because the policy lists it.”
As for employee investigations, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Services Teddra Porteous also made clear that evidence collected as part of an investigation is not and will not be destroyed. Relevant evidence is currently included in final investigative reports, and will continue to be.
Porteous suggested not adopting optional Neola language that states “narratives of, notes from, or audio, video, or digital recordings of witness statements,” and “emails, texts, or social media posts pertaining to the investigation” will be retained. These items would fall under “all documentary evidence,” suggested Neola language that Porteous recommended be adopted.
“We keep all records, documents, etc.,” Porteous said.
Based on the School Board’s discussion, Dodge will present updated policies that include language that says witness statements and all documentary evidence will be retained, which may include, but is not limited to, emails, texts and other information pertaining to the investigation.
Stay up to date on matters the School Board is considering, and view upcoming agendas, by visiting polkschoolsfl.com/schoolboard.