Formal Grievance to Address DLI Removal at Paxson (New Signatures Needed)
Formal Grievance to Address DLI Removal at Paxson (New Signatures Needed)
Why this petition matters
In the June 1, 2022 panel discussion with Dr. Watson, our community learned for the first time, publicly, that Dr. Watson intends to recommend to the School Board to eliminate Dual Language Immersion (DLI) at Paxson and provide "language instruction" for 45 minutes per day, regardless of the grade. He is making this recommendation on June 14, 2022 at the School Board of Trustees regular meeting. This matter is on the agenda, and the School Board will have the opportunity to vote to approve or deny it, or to table it for a future time.
As a community, we have worked hard to come together to find an appropriate avenue to stop this vote from being on the table. Our collective voices are powerful, and for this reason, we ask you to sign this Grievance that we will submit to the Board of Trustees, as well as Watson and Robitaille. Like the petition many of us already signed, this asks the Board and School to engage in the process and slow things down so that the right outcome can be reached. Unlike the petition, the grievance procedure requires the Board to place the meeting on the Board agenda. BP 1700.
If the grievance is not successful, we can escalate it, if we want to. We don't have to. We can collectively decide to drop it at any time.
It is simply one mechanism to stop the vote on June 14th, and it is not binding on us, it is not a lawsuit. It is free, public, and available to any member of the community. It is just one way to stop the vote hopefully, require a response, and hopefully require some process.
In addition to signing this Grievance, we ask that you come to the Board Meeting at 6:00 p.m. on June 14, 2022, to make public comments regarding DLI at Paxson. The Board will want to hear our collective voices.
The official Grievance is as follows:
June 10, 2022
VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL ONLY
Wilena Old Person, Chairperson, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Jeffrey Avgeris, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Grace Decker, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Nancy Hobbins, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Koan Mercer, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Karen Sherman, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Jennifer Vogel, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Arlene Walker-Andrews, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Meg Whicher, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Keegan Witt, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Rob Woelich, Trustee, Missoula County Board of Trustees
Re: Dual Language Immersion Program, Paxson Elementary School
Chairperson Old Person and Esteemed Trustees:
We, the below-named parents and signatories to this correspondence, seek to file a formal grievance with the Missoula County Superintendent Watson ("Watson") by submitting this correspondence to the Missoula County Board of Trustees, under BP 1000 Uniform Grievance Procedure. The purpose of the grievance is to formalize our concerns regarding the elimination of the Dual Language Immersion at Paxson Elementary. It is our intent to invoke the grievance procedure, and we initiate this grievance with Watson. Given the impending recommendation to the Board of Trustees, we believe it crucial that Principal Julie Robitaille and the Superintendent be privy to this information as well.
As you are aware, Paxson students receive up to 50% of Spanish immersion throughout their school day, learning many different subjects in Spanish. This is not purely rote language instruction, but is substantive instruction of various curricular materials in Spanish. Publicly available state and federal assessment data show scores of the Paxson students have remained some of the highest in the city and state, throughout the growth of the Spanish Immersion curriculum. The program works, and the children love it.
Families were invited to a meeting on Wednesday, June 1st, hosted by Dr. Watson, wherein he outlined the elimination of the Spanish immersion curriculum. On June 1, 2022, for the first time, the Paxson community learned publicly that Dr. Watson intends to formally recommend the elimination of DLI at Paxson, a recommendation he intends to put forth at the School Board of Trustees Meeting on June 14, 2022. This recommendation is the culmination of a non-unanimous teachers’ decision to make policy changes in private. Throughout the course of the spring of 2022, and perhaps longer, teachers were meeting privately with Watson and Robitaille to determine how to eliminate the DLI program. Parents were not involved in this process at all, and the meetings were not announced or open to the public.
On June 1, when Watson was asked by families why the District could not more appropriately engage in a stakeholder process, he provided his belief that there was “not time” but provided no explanation as to why there was not time. When Watson was asked by the families if the District or committee, which included Watson and 76% of Paxson staff, used any academic or achievement data regarding the success or failure of the DLI model in their decision making process, Watson’s response was that “the committee did not use time during the consensus building process to examine academic data, however it is a vital component of our decision making process”.
Despite nearly uniform objection at the June 1st panel hosted by Watson, and the final return of a parent survey establishing that 87% of parents agree or strongly agree that their child benefits from Paxson’s language immersion program, it is the families’ understanding that Superintendent Watson intends to present a proposal to the Board of Trustees at a board meeting scheduled for June 14, 2022, asking the Board to eliminate the Spanish Dual Language Immersion Program.
This letter provides the School District notice that the families intend to provide information to the District that the Superintendent has engaged in conduct that has violated the District’s Board Policies, as well as state and federal law, and thereby has violated the rights of children and parents in our school district.
Prior to Watson making a recommendation at the June 14th meeting, the families are requesting a meeting with the Incoming Superintendent Lodge and Chair Old Person. The families remain hopeful that the Board will address their grievances and remedy the deficiencies in Watson’s prior communications with families and provide for a public and transparent process when attempting to make large scale changes to the children’s curriculum.
As a part of their grievance, the families are requesting Watson to table his proposed presentation for June 14, and instead recommend that the Board have an opportunity to respond to the grievances.
Because prior oral requests by families asking Watson adhere to board policy have already been declined by Watson, the families don’t anticipate Watson will delay his presentation. The families will seek for the Board to table Watson’s presentation, enabling Watson’s efforts to be brought before the Board at a future meeting, which would permit the Board time to respond to the grievances of the families.
Three areas this grievance brings to your attention are as follows:
(1.) Failure to follow process as outlined by board procedures, Montana law, US Constitution, specifically:
BP 2120 Curriculum Development and Assessment
BP 2130 Program Evaluation and Diagnostic Tests
BP 1521 Guiding Principles for Board-Administrative Team Relationships
BP 2159 Parent and Family Engagement
BP 6110 Superintendent/Board Relations
BP 4000 Goals, and ARM 10.55.701 and 10.55.801
BP 4120 Public Relations
BP 6000 Goals of Administrative Organization
Montana Constitution. Article II, Section 9, Right to know.
Montana Constitution, Article II, Section 8, Right of public participation.
Montana Code Annotated §§ 2-3-201 through 2-3-221, i.e., Montana “open meeting” law
Violations of these policies and laws occurred when the one-year lead time was not given before the proposal was approved. Parents, community members, and UM faculty were not invited to participate in the decision to curtail DLI at Paxson. A decision had already been made, and was then presented to the community. The stakeholders were not included in the decision-making process. Board policies define the significant process that must be followed to implement major changes in curriculum. These requirements were not followed.
(2.) Failure to communicate & attempts to exclude parents, students, and board members/ eroding trust
BP 4000 has been violated numerous times as evidenced by the many internal emails asking staff to perpetuate a narrative, telling families that ‘no decision has been made’ regarding the removal of the DLI program. External emails to families were not reflective of internal information related to the DLI program.
Parents were not informed the DLI was under review or of the existence of a review committee. Despite the parent survey indicating that most Paxson parents approve of DLI, no effort was made to change the plan going forward when that information came to light. The survey and panel were not actually considerate of parental opinion. 87% of parents agreed or strongly agreed that DLI benefited their child.
The Missoula County Public Schools Public Comment website section, a platform for people's right to freedom of speech, has been inactive since May 27, 2022. Despite parents’ requests to the District, no action has been taken for updating and publishing all stakeholders' comments.
(3.) Information and belief that grant monies were not spent appropriately
The DLI coordinator has not carried out the tasks or function within their job description to serve as a support to the staff delivering DLI content, as evidenced by staff testimony.
According to some staff, grant money was also supposed to provide training and professional development that did not occur.
Because the process occurred behind closed doors, the community does not now have all of the information available to it that should be available. Further, the rush of the process - between the June 1 meeting informing the community of the recommendation to the June 14 School Board meeting - has not been conducive to the gathering of information. This is, in part, why a delay and a proper process is necessary prior to making any changes.
We, the following members of the community, ask for the following relief in this grievance: That Board Policies and Procedures, as well as Montana law and the Montana Constitution, be followed with respect to changes in DLI at Paxson Elementary. Specifically, we request that:
The Board of Trustees move to table Watson’s recommendations regarding DLI at Paxson at this time;
The Board, teachers, principal, superintendent, stakeholders, and appropriate entities identify and outline a process that comports with Montana law, policies, and procedures as to whether or not any changes are required to DLI at Paxson Elementary; and
The Board, teachers, principal, superintendent, stakeholders, and appropriate entities invoke that process to determine whether or not any changes are required to DLI at Paxson Elementary.