IW School Board approves revised grievance procedure

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Isle of Wight County’s School Board voted 4-1 on Dec. 9 to approve a series of changes to its grievance procedure for support staff employees facing demotion or dismissal.

School Board Policy GBMA had previously allowed employees facing demotion or dismissal a window of 10 business days to request a hearing with the superintendent for the purpose of appealing the disciplinary action.

The revised policy reduces that window to five days and eliminates the requirement that the superintendent select an external hearing officer from a list approved by the School Board to preside over the proceeding.

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Instead, the superintendent or his or her designee will have “full discretion over the conduct of the hearing,” the policy now states.

Previously, School Board Attorney Pakapon “Pak” Phinyowattanachip had served as the external hearing officer, resulting in IWCS incurring the cost of retaining on-site counsel whenever a disciplinary hearing occurred. According to School Board Chairwoman Jackie Carr, eliminating the hearing officer requirement will save the school system this cost. But employees facing discipline will still have the right to retain their own counsel, Phinyowattanachip said.

The procedure for the hearing itself remains largely unchanged.

During the hearing, the employee and his or her immediate supervisor will both be allowed to make opening statements, present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Per the policy changes, the superintendent now has five business days — down from 10 — to give a written decision from the hearing. Should the superintendent or his or her designee concur with the recommended disciplinary action following the hearing, the written response must specify the effective date of demotion or dismissal, which “may be immediate.”

Should the employee choose to appeal the results of the hearing, he or she must do so in writing within five days of receiving the written decision — at which point the matter would go to the School Board within the next 30 days for a final decision.

Two speakers criticized the then-proposed policy changes during the meeting’s public comment period.

Jennifer Boykin referred to the changes as a “power grab” by Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton that would limit “the rights of the employees of Isle of Wight County Schools.” Carrsville District School Board member-elect John Collick, who will take office in January, further accused the changes of taking “significant authority away from the School Board” and giving it “solely to the superintendent.”

But Newport District School Board member Renee Dial pushed back against the criticism, stating that the policy revisions were nearly identical to the language recommended by the Virginia School Boards Association.

“It’s legal, and we need to keep it simple,” Dial said.

The 4-1 vote came as a result of a motion to approve four policies, including GBMA, that had been up for a second read by the School Board. Policy GBE concerned staff health, Policy GCBE concerned family and medical leave and Policy GAA concerned staff time schedules.

Windsor District School Board member Michael Vines cast the dissenting vote using the School Board’s electronic voting system, but stated at the end of the meeting he’d intended to vote in favor of the motion.