WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Questions are stirring around a Newton public school board meeting. It comes after a vote to change their student code of conduct policy.
Several community members contacted KSN asking whether or not this meeting was being held legally, and many questioned the Board of Education’s decision.
Board member Andy Ortiz said KSN members are usually given 48 hours notice before a special meeting. He says he received less than 24 hours notice for this meeting. Ortiz said he initially received an email about a situation involving a student early Tuesday afternoon. A few hours later he learned that there would be a meeting on Wednesday night.
At the board meeting, which was not live streamed, Ortiz said the board went into executive session for three hours, then voted on the change to “The Railer Way Code of Conduct.” It is an 11-page document that “describes the essential qualities of the student athlete/activity participant.”
The board voted 4-2 to add a statement to the document that reads, “Every situation is different and the administration reserves the right to deviate from the Code of Conduct when deemed appropriate.”
Ortiz voted against the change.
“There’s a lot of ambiguity in those changes where you leave everything up to people’s discretion, but that can also leave doors open to change things without us having a process that perhaps most people disagree with” Ortiz said. “So ultimately, I think it was a little daunting to do things so quickly. And I think the community is sharing their concerns about what’s going on. And it’s kind of interesting to see them try to fill in the gaps with information that we can’t really talk about.
Ortiz said he heard community concerns about how quickly the meeting was called, as well as the decision made.
“I think it opens the door for a lot of things because we did it so fast,” Ortiz said. “I worry that people are being forced, frankly, to make decisions they don’t want to make and without a process taking place, which can be dangerous in a large system.”
One councilor was absent from the vote. Brenna Haines said she felt uncomfortable attending, due to mixed responses about the legality of the bout.
“The counsel for the board said on speakerphone at the beginning of the meeting that unless everyone signs the meeting notice waiver, it was illegal to meet,” Haines said in a written response to questions from KSN. She said a further call to the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) attorney yielded a response that “it was okay to meet if 4 signed the waiver.”
He left the meeting before the vote.
“This was crazy. We shouldn’t be meeting under duress,” Haines wrote to KSN. “We had four extremely biased board members and we didn’t even have time to read (refresh knowledge) the Railer Way textbook, the high school code of conduct, nothing, anything. advance”.
“I was a little bummed that I was at the meeting even after I heard everything,” Ortiz said. “I don’t even think we should have had this meeting, frankly.”
KSN contacted all board members, a district spokesperson and the superintendent.
“I can’t comment on matters affecting student discipline,” Superintendent Fred Van Ranken said, through a spokesperson. When KSN made it clear that we wanted to ask about the policy, the communications director said, “School districts work and operate at the behest of their board of education.”
The school board president declined an on-camera interview, saying it would be unethical to discuss the executive session. Other board members did not respond to KSN’s request for comment on the meeting.
Ortiz hopes the council, as well as the community, can move forward.
“There are a lot of growing pains that we are going through right now. But we’ll make good on this one. We will make this an opportunity to grow” Ortiz said.
The Newton Board of Education is holding its next meeting on Monday, and Ortiz said he expects large community participation.
You can find Railer Way’s old code of conduct below. The new policy with the added statement hasn’t been released yet: