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MDUSD trustee urges rest of board not to talk to press or public via social media

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, January 18th, 2013 at 5:46 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Mt. Diablo district Trustee Linda Mayo became the longest-serving board member after Trustee Gary Eberhart stepped down and voters ousted former Board President Sherry Whitmarsh in her November re-election bid.

Mayo, who has served 15 years on the board, now sits alongside Cheryl Hansen and Lynne Dennler — elected just two years ago — and newcomers Barbara Oaks and Brian Lawrence.

Given her seniority, Mayo may have seemed like the natural choice for board president. In fact, she appeared poised to accept that position when Trustee Lynne Dennler nominated her Dec. 10.

Often on government boards, elected officials defer to the first person nominated and don’t nominate anyone else, adhering to a sort of unwritten protocol that rewards those who have put in the most time. But that didn’t happen on the Mt. Diablo school board.

Instead, Oaks and Lawrence backed Trustee Cheryl Hansen for president, who won in a 3-2 vote. Thus, a new board majority was born.

Since then, Hansen has taken bold actions to improve transparency, producing agendas with more detail than I ever recall seeing in the past. Lawrence, who was already on Twitter, immediately started up his own blog and has commented regularly on my blog, responding to questions posed by readers.

Hansen, Lawrence and Oaks have also all given me their cell phone numbers and have been very responsive when I have called them for comments on a variety of district issues. Mayo and Dennler, on the other hand, are far less accessible.

After listening to comments Mayo made to her fellow trustees before they went into closed session Dec. 21, I now understand that she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for board members to speak to the press over the phone, via e-mail or social media. She urged the rest of the board to embrace her ideas about limiting communication with the public and press, saying failure to do so could damage the trust among trustees.

Here are her comments:

“Trust is a five letter word with a profound meaning. The word itself has five letters, like our number on this board.

Without one letter in the word, the word stands as a jumble of letters — meaningless.

As members of the board, we must work on building trust with one another. Each action can build or destroy a relationship.

The letter T — we must work as a team.

The letter R — we must rely and respect one another.

The letter U — we must listen for understanding.

The letter S — we must speak as one in support of adopted decisions.

The letter T — finally, we must treasure the children, for whom we do this great work.

Our employees and our community expect us to model trust, civility and respect. For me, trust does not include discussing out of context your actions as trustees with the press or through social media outside of your presence.

Trust, when lost, is difficult to restore. I look forward to our positive work as a team, building trust today and in 2013.”

Yet, in the age of technology and accountability, many trustees believe that it is perfectly appropriate for them to communicate with the public and the press via social media. These include San Francisco Trustee Rachel Norton, West Contra Costa Trustee Todd Groves and Contra Costa Community College Board Trustee Vicki Gordon.

In addition, many elected state leaders also regularly tweet, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

After Mayo made her statement, I noted that Lawrence continued posting comments on my blog, showing apparent disagreement with her strict admonition. This prompted the following (exerpted) comment from board watchdog Wendy Lack: “Glad to hear about Brian Lawrence’s ongoing use of today’s customary modes of communication (i.e., social media, blogs, etc.), in defiance of Mayo’s bizarre perspective on the matter. All of the board members should follow his lead.”

Do you agree with Mayo’s position?

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  • g

    How much training should Mandatory Reporting laws take? Hire a few consultants, pull teachers out of class, send them to training in and out of district, hire a few coaches to watch them in class? Bull!

    How hard would it be to include this in Every Parent/Student Booklet. How hard would it be to have Every Teacher and Administrator sign a document upon being hired and each school year, indicating that they have received a copy and Understand the law, and put a copy in Every Teacher Performance Expectation (TPE guide) and post it in Every School Office?

    Here’s a simple but good example of what it says in a Parent/Student Booklet in Acton, Ca. The Teacher’s copy only needs the first two paragraphs:

    CHILD ABUSE REPORTING LAW
    ~~~What is child abuse? The following definition is taken from Penal Code
    Sections 273 and 11165.5: Child abuse is a physical injury, which is inflicted by
    other than accidental means on a child by another person. Child abuse also
    includes sexual abuse and willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment of a child.
    Failure to safeguard a child from injuries or abuse when the child is under a
    person’s care or custody may also be child abuse.

    ~~~Mandated reporting: State law requires that if physical abuse, sexual abuse, or
    neglect of a child is suspected, school personnel must report the information to
    the Department of Children’s Services. School personnel are not allowed to
    investigate or confirm the situation themselves by contacting parents or others.

    ~~~How to file a complaint of child abuse by school district employees or others at school sites:

    A parent or guardian of a pupil has the right to file a complaint against a school district employee or other person that they suspect has engaged in abuse of a child at a school site. The complaint may be filed with
    the Child Protective Agency, the School District, or the County Office of Education.

    Note–Failure to safeguard a child may itself be considered Child Abuse!!!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a separate blog post about the superintendent’s attempt to exclude me from the Equity Advisory Team meeting, which includes follow-up by Board President Cheryl Hansen: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/01/24/mdusd-board-president-asks-superintendent-to-be-more-welcoming-and-transparent-to-press-and-public-regarding-meetings/

  • Doctor J

    Before we lose the “moment” of last week, I hope there can be some followup on the copies of the CHP accident reports on the three crashed buses AND the Chief’s promise to produce the video of the laptop burglar ?
    I also hope that based on last nights discussion, we will get more complete details on the costs to the district and the particulars of the insurance policy.

  • Giorgio C.

    #90Theresa,
    This item regarding the math teacher is worthy of its own column. I’ll say more tomorrow. As a science teacher, I witnessed this scenario over and over with respect to both math and science classes. Kids being taught math and science by subs or non-credentialed teachers.

    I hope you are ready to jump on this item in a big way, Theresa. I’ll organize a protest march to any school where this is currently happening. These children are being ROBBED of their right to an education. There is no excuse for it.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Giorgio: The parents have given me permission to post their letters without their last names, along with the responses they and other parents have received from the principal and district. I will try to do a blog post about that later.

  • Giorgio C.

    Sounds good, Theresa.

  • Giorgio C.

    Theresa,
    Isn’t not providing a math teacher addressed by the Williams Complaint process?
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/ce/wc/noticeenglish.asp

    “B) a lack of qualified teachers such that (1) the student attends a class or classes for which no permanent teacher is assigned; “

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, absolutely. Those parents who aren’t satisfied with the level of math instruction being offered could file a Williams complaint. However, the district is providing additional tutoring, I believe.

  • Giorgio C.

    Theresa,
    Additional tutoring doesn’t address one key issue, and that is getting buy-in from some students who might be lacking in motivation. From my experience, they saw conflicting messages. We were telling them to value education, yet we often didn’t provide qualified instructors. Yes, education is so important that we are giving you a substitute teacher…again.

    And when is tutoring offered? After school? When some kids are working or possibly playing sports, etc. They should have split the class up, placing the students in a classroom with a qualified instructor, but I suppose the union would have a cow if a tenured teacher felt overloaded. I can’t believe I keep hearing about this same scenario being repeated over and over again, often with math and science instructors.

    My first teaching job was to rescue a few science classes who had no teacher. The substitutes had them write essays and watch movies. They had not been doing science for 4 weeks.

    I look forward to reading the letters, Theresa.

  • http://yahoo Annie CSEA

    Mandatedreporterca.com is excellant to learn the law. You take the class online and do a 20 question test at the end.There is a general training one(you have to take first) and an educator one. I took both. At the end of each training (if you pass the test)you print out a certicate with your name on it. I was a State Humane Officer about 15 years ago and we were mandated reporters. I had to go to a 2 day intense training.After I took this online training I was shocked at how much I did’nt remember or how much had changed. It was very scary. I have spoke more then once to the Board and District of how very important it is for their employees to know the law.We need to be proactive and not reactive.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Annie, Did the district provide this training or did you do it on your own? In Brentwood, special ed assistants who saw a teacher kick a student did not report it to police or CPS because they feared retaliation. Do you think instructional assistants in MDUSD know their responsibility to report suspected abuse to police or CPS? The law also protects employees who make reports from retaliation.

  • http://yahoo Annie CSEA

    I went online myself and found it. I was so concerned about my members not knowing the law. Yes, I do believe they are afraid of retaliation or not being a team player. You heard my idea of a team player in the District at the last Board meeting.I think everyone in the District should take this online class.Check it out Theresa, I think you will find it very informative. I do not believe they know the scope of their responsibility as a mandated reporter.Better safe then sorry.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Annie, This is very interesting, since the district recently responded to a Bay Area News Group survey about mandated reporting in which the district claimed that all mandated reporters receive training annually. Are you aware of CSEA members being trained annually by the district?