Chesterton Tribune



Oops: Duneland schools have been closed to transfer students since August; public can comment February 28

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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 August.

Board President 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.

Previously, the 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.

Duneland’s policies 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 it.”

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.”

“I’ll take 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.

Marshall said 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.

“We’re disappointed that it happened that way, and we want to do what we can to make it right,” said Kroft.

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.

“The Board’s 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 here.”

Pol further said, “I think we absolutely need to dig deeper into keeping it open, but we need to know what’s sustainable.”


Posted 2/19/2019




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