The Duneland School
Board is holding a special meeting to gather public input on Duneland’s
transfer student policy, following its realization that the district was
closed by mistake in a round of policy updates the Board approved last
Brandon Kroft stated at the Board’s Feb. 4 meeting that the Board was
planning to wait until it hired a new superintendent to address the issue of
transfer students at Duneland. At that meeting, Kroft said Policy 5111 was
in effect in the meantime.
Board members had given their thoughts on the policy in September and
promised to research the impact of keeping Duneland open to transfer
students to address the issue in early 2019.
Policy 5111 guides
how Duneland determines legal settlement--or who will be admitted to
Duneland. A closer look at the policy shows that Duneland is a closed
district, only allowing enrollment from students outside the district who
fit one of the following categories: (1) children of Duneland employees, (2)
students who have attended an accredited nonpublic school in the district,
for at least two years prior to transfer, who need to advance to a grade
level not offered at the nonpublic school, (3) siblings of students who have
already transferred to Duneland from outside the district.
Kroft spoke with
the Chesterton Tribune to clarify the issue.
According to Kroft,
an updated version of Policy 5111 was included in approximately 100 pages of
policy updates approved at the Board’s August 2018 meeting.
come from NEOLA, an Ohio-based company that supplies policies to dozens of
school districts in Indiana. Duneland previously had language in Policy 5111
allowing the admission of transfer students, but last August passed a
“standard form policy” on enrollment from NEOLA that closed the district.
Kroft said the
Board members were not told at the time that Policy 5111 was part of the
packet of updates. When asked, Kroft said he was confident no Board members
had prior knowledge of the policy’s inclusion in the update, or the changes
to its language, and no reason to believe that it was slipped in on purpose.
“My feeling was it
was inadvertent,” Kroft said.
Kroft said the
round of policies, more than 40 of them totaling over 100 pages of
materials, was brought before the Board by former Superintendent Dr. Ginger
Bolinger for a first reading in July 2018. It had second reading in August,
at which time Bolinger said it was the Administration’s recommendation that
the Board approve them, and the Board obliged.
“Given that those
policies themselves really relate to the inner workings of the school
district, and we’re not professional educators, we rely on our
administration,” Kroft said. “When we get that recommendation, we follow
Kroft said, “We
rely upon our administration to make recommendations, and we want to follow
our administration if we have confidence in what they’re doing, and when we
don’t, we’ve got another problem.”
responsibility, as a Board member,” said Kroft. “Even buried in the middle
of 100 pages and 40 policies, I should have caught it.”
At the time the
round of policy updates was approved, Board member John Marshall was serving
as President, and former Board member Michael Trout had not yet been
replaced by current Board member Alayna Lightfoot Pol.
policies are usually updated one or two at a time as needed. “We typically
don’t ever get a packet like that to approve at one time.”
Marshall said it
was out of the ordinary for the Board to approve so many policies at once,
but it was done because the language in the policies was “woefully behind,”
which Marshall attributed to NEOLA changing a lot of their policies over the
last several years.
The School Board
will hold a special meeting where the public can have input on Policy 5111
Thursday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Administration Center, 601 W. Morgan
Avenue, Chesterton, since it wasn’t on the agenda for the meeting where it
was first adopted.
that it happened that way, and we want to do what we can to make it right,”
Marshall also said
it was important to the Board that this issue is decided in a public forum
and urged concerned residents to attend the meeting.
“We want people to
get their questions answered,” Marshall said. “The best way to do that is to
come talk to the people who make the decisions. Talk to the Board members,
talk to the Superintendent, the Chief Financial Officer. Everyone is here to
answer your questions.”
Kroft said he was
interested in “being as transparent as possible” going forward on the issue.
“Everyone will have
a chance to come and represent to the Board and the public how they feel
about this policy, and the Board can very publicly take some action on it.”
Kroft said he can’t
predict what action the Board members will ultimately take on Feb. 28, but
his feeling is they’re in agreement.
Kroft said the
Board discovered the error only because they were planning to address the
policy in January, at which time they found that it had already been changed
months before. According to Kroft, the Board intended to close the district
anyway after looking at the policy “critically.”
“I know the
majority of the Board members have expressed the feeling that we’re not
happy with the way the policy has been managed. The number of those students
has increased at a rate that we weren’t comfortable with.”
Marshall was a
proponent of keeping the district open in September, but said he’s now in
favor of keeping the district closed until the Board has found a new
permanent Superintendent to collaborate with.
responsibility is to manage open enrollment, and we have gotten to the point
where we need to do a better job at managing that,” Marshall said, “but it’s
a very difficult thing do to when we don’t have a superintendent.”
Marshall says he’ll
continue arguing for open enrollment once they fill the position.
Pol said, “Everyone
agrees something needs to be reined in,” though she’s personally on the
fence about whether that means closing the district or keeping it open with
new tactics for management.
Pol said she sees
both sides of the issue and is doing her homework to learn more about it as
a new Board member. “From what I understand when I talk to teachers, the
students that join us are great students. They do well. They want to be
Pol further said,
“I think we absolutely need to dig deeper into keeping it open, but we need
to know what’s sustainable.”