Some of the most important work going on within Wake County Public School System isn’t happening the classroom.
The WCPSS School Board and school system staff are working on a major project to update the system’s policy manual – a document which formalizes the governance of everything from teacher lesson planning to child nutrition.
Perhaps the most widely known recent example of the policy changes was the measure to end naming valedictorians of high school graduating classes. The issue garnered national attention with critics saying that “everyone would get a trophy.” That was just one of hundreds of policies that are being updated under this project.
It’s a major undertaking that requires the school system to conduct a deep organizational evaluation with the understanding that it will be changing most of the methods and formats of everyday operations from the classroom to the superintendent’s office.
At least once a month, a subcommittee of school board members works with school system staff to parse language in the hundreds of policies that exist. They get into the minutia of whether one word or phrase is more clear and concise than another, but they don’t get bogged down. The work is purposeful and moves forward.
It’s clear when attending these sessions that board members want to make the policies easy to read, understand, and follow by all employees, even when the laws around the policies aren’t so clear. An example came this week when the board was considering an entirely new policy about copyright protection and the term “fair use.”
Intellectual property abuse and copyright infringement has ballooned in the “Cut-and-Paste” era, and the school system has be vigilant that it is doing its best to ensure that staff and students are aware of the rules and know how to decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
The issue of “fair use” of copyrighted material is a tricky one. While some guidelines exist, the laws are not clear and the court cases have also had mixed standards.
The school system offers professional development to teachers and posts placards in schools near copy machines to remind users about copyright rules.
Until this policy manual update, WCPSS policies advised against copyright infringement, but that mainly focused on reproducing physical materials. The new policy addresses everything from physical materials to software licenses to streaming video.
Using the State School Boards Association’s suggested policy manual and the existing WCPSS policy manual, school system staff has worked to combine both and revise all of the wording to make it relevant to how WCPSS conducts its business, adhere to state and federal laws, and maintain best practices.
As each policy is approved by the Policy Subcommittee, it is sent to the full school board for a vote on its Consent Agenda or Action Agenda. Items on Consent are usually approved with a voice vote at board meetings, while Action items are discussed and voted on individually.
In some cases, such as the valedictorian policy, items put on the Consent Agenda can be moved to the Action Agenda during the regular school board meeting to allow for discussion and an individual vote.
The board chose to move the valedictorian policy to Action after two high school students spoke during the Public Comment period of the meeting against ending the practice of naming high school valedictorians. Individual school board members shared their feelings about the valedictorian policy voted in favor of ending the practice.