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Civility policy stirs up contreversy

In hopes of promoting orderly conduct and alleviating tensions between parents and teachers, the teachers union has proposed that the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) adopt a Civility Policy.

Put forth by the Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA), such a policy aims to make official any concerns with inappropriate behavior, according to union officials. Locally, Los Altos Unified School district adopted their civility policy over a decade ago, outlining appropriate action for disruptions and proper documentation of such an incident.

In an email representing the views of the PAEA Executive Board sent by PAEA President Teri Baldwin, the Board wrote, “A Civility Policy is not specifically for parents; it is for all stakeholders in the District. The discussions about this policy began a couple years ago. A number of staff members expressed a desire to put into writing some of the expectations and norms that help everyone maintain respectful, productive relationships.”

Instances of stakeholders “emailing teachers upwards of 15 times in a night,” “showing up in a classroom unannounced, without checking into the office and refusing to leave the classroom” and “yelling during meetings” have catalyzed the proposal of this policy, according to the PAEA Board.

But brash emails sent by upset parents may just be miscommunication, according to Kindel Launer, Paly English teacher and parent.

“The first reaction when you receive an email that has a lot of energy in it, and perhaps [might feel] hostile or personal against you when you first read it, does take your breath away. Once you get past that, then it becomes a parent that is really concerned about their child. For myself, I try to remember the times when I’ve been so concerned about my child. I try to take a step back and go, ‘alright, what does this parent really trying to communicate to me?’”

Kindel Launer

While existing policies entitle students and their families to file Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP) complaints, which initiate investigations into allegations of unlawful harassment or discrimination, the Civility Policy intends to everyday interactions, according to the PAEA Board.

“This policy is designed as a way to help maintain courteous, respectful behavior on the part of all District stakeholders,” the PAEA Board statement said. “Teachers, staff, parents and students would all be expected to adhere to the civility guidelines, in the belief that issues get worked out more effectively through civil interactions.”

The policy would enable administrators to give offenders “reminders” before taking real action.

“The policy would provide backing to individuals who need to restore civility to an interaction that has become uncivil. If reminders about the policy prove insufficient, it would be up to administrators at the site or District-level to intervene as needed.”

PAEA Board

Although it awaits approval from the Board Policy Review Committee (BPRC), the proposed policy has sparked concerns among community members about its potential for infringement of individuals’ rights to freedom of speech and subjective punishments.

If the BPRC approves the policy, it will go to the Board of Education for review, according to the PAEA Board. PAUSD’s Civility Policy would be influenced by other school districts’ existing policies, such as the Laguna Beach Unified School District Civility Policy and Santa Barbara Unified School district Civility Policy, according to Baldwin.

“Whether we end up with a specific policy or not we do need to address the teachers’ concerns,” said Terry Godfrey, PAUSD Board President, in an email. “Teachers and parents all play crucial roles in students’ school life so communicating effectively is incredibly important. This is just the beginning of the discussion.”

“I’m not saying teachers don’t receive [potentially abusive] emails; they do, and it’s scary,” Launer said. “I think that almost all of our parents, once you talk to them, [are] not out to get teachers or administrators. They want what’s best for their child. When we can stay focused on that, then we don’t need that policy. The key is can we can stay focused on our students and understand that we’re all going to be giving and taking a little bit. I would like to see us move toward better communication as quickly as possible.”

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