The vote on the overhaul of Wake County's student discipline policies was delayed Tuesday over the tricky issue of who should hear recommendations for long-term suspensions.
Currently, a panel of three teachers reviews any recommendations for long-term suspensions that are made by the principal of their school. The principal appoints the panel, creating a potential conflict of interest.
A bill expected to be passed by the General Assembly would say that these panels could no longer consist of people from the child's school.
The question for Wake and other school districts is whether to still have panels or to turn the issue over to a hearing officer. This would mean one person would be charged with hearing these cases instead of some rotating panel of people.
It's a pretty important issue because the hearing officer or hearing panel can decide whether to uphold the principal's recommendation for a long-term suspension, reduce it to a short-term suspension or dismiss the case entirely.
In a district the size of Wake, you could have more than 1,000 cases to review annually.
School board attorney Ann Majestic said the policy changes were pulled off Tuesday's agenda until the board decides whether to go with a hearing officer or a hearing panel. She pointed out that logistically it's harder to do a hearing panel than to have a hearing officer.
School board member John Tedesco said he was "torn" about the issue. He said he can see the "functional side" of going with a hearing officer because it would be more "efficient."
But Tedesco said he's concerned that children would be "losing a broader collection of open minds" by not having a hearing panel. For instance, he said students could be affected by whether the hearing officer is in a bad mood or having a bad day.
Tedesco said he would want the board to have "serious conversations" before making a decision.
Majestic responded that it would be "a significant manpower issue" finding people to serve on the panels.
School board member Keith Sutton joined Tedesco in saying he was concerned about using a hearing officer.
Majestic said they could continue to have teachers serve on the panels by bringing them in from other schools. But she asked the board to "think of the logistic issues." She said that principals now already have problems getting enough of their teachers to serve on panels.
She said there would also be issues finding administrators who would be able to spend the time on hearing panels.
“It’s about people," Majestic said. "It’s about manpower.”
Tedesco asked about the possibility of contracting with an outside agency to find people to serve on the panels. Majestic said it's "feasible" but the question is whether it's "advisable."
The board is set to discuss the issue again on June 21. It would likely be handled in the work session before going to the regular meeting.