By Tim Rollins
Rockford Board of Education member, Subdistrict B
I would like to respond to Jane Hayes’ guest column of May 31 (“District 205: Exposing the bullies among us,” May 31-June 5 issue of The Rock River Times). In doing so, I want to make it clear I am speaking only for myself, and not for the administration or any other board member.
One of the most difficult and perplexing situations in which we find ourselves as board members is receiving concerns expressed by members of the community regarding personnel actions taken by the administration and board. These situations are difficult and perplexing for us because, as a result of privacy concerns designed to protect the individuals involved (not the administration or board), we are not permitted to discuss personnel actions or release any information regarding our actions. This information vacuum creates an opportunity for some people to speculate and advocate, without any fear that they will be contradicted or corrected.
While I cannot discuss specific or individual situations, let me at least respond to Ms. Hayes’ concerns regarding the practice of placing employees on administrative leave with some general statements.
1. When credible allegations that raise concerns about student safety or well-being are made against adult personnel who have direct contact with students, it is the administration’s policy to remove the adult immediately and place him or her on paid administrative leave (with full benefits) while a thorough investigation can be conducted. I believe this is an appropriate balancing of interests. When student safety and well-being are at stake, our primary concern should be the protection of children. Ms. Hayes may feel differently, in which case she and I will simply have to disagree. I want to emphasize, though, that no one ought to make any assumptions about any individual who has been placed on administrative leave. The sole purpose of an administrative leave is to provide time to conduct an investigation. The results of those investigations can (and do) run the gamut, from concluding that the allegations were unfounded through concluding that the allegations were true and that action needs to be taken. Until the investigation is complete and action taken, no one ought to jump to any conclusions.
2. People who do not have access to all of the facts ought not judge those who do. I understand that it can be frustrating to be in the dark about why a particular decision was made. Remember, though, that the privacy rules we follow are for the protection of the individual, not us. The individual, and not the administration or board, is the one person who has the power to lift those restrictions. Any individual who, after an investigation has been completed and final action taken, feels he or she has been treated unfairly by the administration or board may sign a full release and authorization, authorizing the administration to release the individual’s full personnel file (including all investigatory and hearing records) to the public. If that has not happened, then please do not assume you know all of the relevant facts.
3. District employees are public employees. Because they are public employees, they have constitutional due process rights that are not afforded private employees. In addition, they have rights created by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act and, in most cases, under a collective bargaining agreement. If they are subject to a collective bargaining agreement, they are represented by their collective bargaining agent and have grievance rights. These rights, laws and contracts ensure that the district cannot act arbitrarily or capriciously in taking any adverse employment action, and further ensure that employees who believe they have been unfairly aggrieved have a number of opportunities and venues in which to challenge any such action.
The school district has many successes to celebrate, and many challenges to overcome. The board, administration and many members of this community have worked hard over the past year to begin to address these challenges collaboratively, constructively and positively. I want to thank everyone who has been a participant in that process, and I hope the community can sustain that same momentum and enthusiasm in the coming year.
Tim Rollins is an elected member of the Rockford Board of Education, District 205, representing Subdistrict B. The opinions he expresses are his own.
From the June 6-12, 2012, issue