The Webster School District: Legal Interview

Subject: Education
Pages: 5
Words: 1373
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: PhD

Introduction

School district principals and executive legal officers usually need to address a variety of issues associated with violating laws and legal negotiations that require effective decision-making. To propose the appropriate ethical and legal decision-making, the officers responsible for resolving such issues need to refer to the state and federal laws and statutes, according to which school districts formulate their legal and ethical policies (Kaplin & Lee, 2007, p. 24). Possible ethical and legal cases usually include such issues as inappropriate development of school attendance policies, weaknesses in the provision of instructional and special education programs, violation of students and teachers’ rights, discrimination in employment, tort liability, and collective bargaining issues (Alexander & Alexander, 2011, p. 34). In this context, the responsibility of school district legal officers is to address the observed issues immediately and to develop response strategies following the state and federal laws and statutes to meet not only legal norms but also to cope with the ethical component in the case.

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Mr James Erickson, District Superintendent of Webster School District located in Webster, Wisconsin, was interviewed to analyze the effectiveness of the decision that he made regarding the legal case in 2014. Currently, Mr Erickson performs the responsibilities and duties associated with the position of the legal officer in the district. His assistant in developing policies and maintaining documentation is Crystal Houman, Administrative Secretary. In 2014, Mr Erickson needed to address the consequences of such a case as Crowe v. Webster School District (2005). This paper aims to provide the results of the interview with Mr Erickson on his maintaining school district legal issues and present the analysis of the District Superintendent’s approach to ethical decision-making.

According to the information provided by Mr Erickson, the previous administrators successfully proposed effective policies according to the state and federal laws to regulate possible ethical and legal issues associated with discrimination of students and teachers, violation of their rights, and provision of equal opportunities (J.Erickson, personal communication, May 16, 2015). However, in 2014, Mr Erickson faced the necessity of revising the school district policy associated with the principles of collective bargaining. The problem stemmed from the previous school district administration being unable to adequately address the legal case of 2005 involving LaVonne Crowe as a complainant and Webster School District as a respondent (Crowe v. Webster School District, 2005; Appendix A).

Ms. Crowe previously worked as Title IX Tutor/Coordinator in the school district, but she was terminated after filling in the complaint form and starting the discussion on including her position in the staff bargaining unit. Ms. Crowe claimed that Sec. 111.70(3) of Wisconsin Statutes was violated because of the administration’s actions (Wisconsin State Legislature, 2015). It was noted that the proposed position was included in the support staff bargaining unit, yet, Ms. Crowe was terminated and the position was eliminated. As a result, there was a question about the board’s motive associated with the decision of terminating Ms. Crowe (J.Erickson, personal communication, May 16, 2015). Referring to such cases as City of Madison v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission and Employment Relations Department v. Werc., the court decided that the actions of the school district’s administration were legal, but the revision of the school policy was necessary (City of Madison v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, 1976; Employment Relations Department v. Werc., 1985).

The case provoked a lot of public discussions, and the staff of Webster School District supported the position of Ms. Crowe. As a result, it was important for the next administration to review the aspects of the case and initiate the revision of the policy one more time. Mr. Erickson noted that he needed to revise all the positions included in the support staff bargaining unit in order to prevent the violation of Wisconsin Statutes and increases in staff’s dissatisfaction as well as possible discrimination in employment (J.Erickson, personal communication, May 16, 2015). Mr. Erickson chose to develop a new policy according to which more positions were included in the bargaining unit. To minimize the risks of developing similar situations in the future, Mr. Erickson also reformulated the collective bargaining agreements to address Sec. 111.70 of Wisconsin Statutes strictly.

Effective collective bargaining policies contribute to the appropriate distribution of resources and opportunities among all employees in school districts and to the development of productive relationships between the employer and employees (D’Andrea, 2013; Freedman, 2014). As a result, it is possible to expect increases in retention and commitment. However, the rights of employees concerning their opportunities to join unions can be violated, as it is in the case Crowe v. Webster School District. Therefore, the school district administration should pay much attention to resolving such legal issues because they are discussed within the area of the district-level responsibilities (Brown, 2013, p. 357). The problems discussed in the case are correlated with the idea that when collective bargaining laws are followed inappropriately or the board pays little attention to resolving conflicts, the level of the employees’ dissatisfaction increases.

The school district administration needs to make collective bargaining issues the subject for negotiations regularly to control the changes in the policies according to the state and federal laws. Furthermore, it is important to focus on avoiding possible discrimination issues and predict violations of the employees’ rights (Strunk, 2012). As a result, both legal and ethical aspects of the case need to be addressed.

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Analysis of the School Leader’s Decision-Making

When Mr. Erickson revised the collective bargaining policies in the school district to avoid possible legal cases similar to Crowe v. Webster School District case, he intended to propose the problem solution referring to the state statutes. The revision of the collective bargaining policies in Webster School District was necessary to propose the new approach to addressing the employees’ needs in order to increase their job satisfaction and improve retention. From this point, attempting to include more positions in the staff bargaining unit, Mr. Erickson not only addressed the legal aspect of the problem and acted in accordance with the rules presented in Sec. 111.70 of Wisconsin Statutes, but he also responded to the ethical issues associated with the case. The problem is in the fact that the staff discussed the termination of Ms. Crowe as illegal and as discrimination against employees.

In spite of the fact that the response of Mr. Erickson to the issues of collective bargaining in Webster School District was rather late, it was necessary to demonstrate that the school district administration worked to address the interests of the employees and propose policies attractive for all the staff in the district while following legal and ethical norms (Anzia & Moe, 2014). Although the variant of the collective bargaining policy used in Webster School District cannot be discussed as the final variant, and Mr. Erickson plans further revisions, it is possible to state that the approach of the school leader to decision-making regarding the ethical and legal issues is rather efficient and staff-oriented.

Conclusion

The interview with Mr. Erickson demonstrated why it is important to analyze what legal and ethical cases can be faced by principals in their practice and what approaches are typically used to address the issues. In 2014, Webster School District faced the challenges associated with the consequences of the Crowe v. Webster School District case of 2005. Mr. Erickson faced the necessity of addressing the problems associated with the ineffective collective bargaining policy followed in the school district. This interview helped me understand what priorities were identified by the school leader to address the problematic consequences of the legal case. It was found that collective bargaining agreements and the opportunity for employees to join the union positively affected their performance because of the increased feeling of protection provided by the union and employer. In this context, Mr. Erickson needed to revise the policy and add more positions to the bargaining unit in order to address the employees’ interests. Although the steps made by the school district leader in responding to the case were rather late while focusing on the period of case development, they were important to create a positive legal and ethical environment in the Webster School District as an organization.

References

Alexander, K., & Alexander, D. (2011). American public-school law. New York, NY: Wadsworth Publishing.

Anzia, S., & Moe, T. (2014). Collective bargaining, transfer rights, and disadvantaged schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 36(1), 83-111.

Brown, C. (2013). Legal issues surrounding single-sex schools in the U.S.: Trends, court cases, and conflicting laws. Sex Roles, 69(7), 356-362.

City of Madison v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, 429 U.S. 167 (97 S.Ct. 421, 50 L.Ed.2d 376, 1976).

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Crowe v. Webster School District, 30 U.S. 59884 (3732, No. 31072-A, 2005).

D’Andrea, C. (2013). Limits on collective bargaining. Education Next, 13(4), 34-38.

Employment Relations Department v. Werc., U.S. 122 (Wis. 2d 132, 1985).

Freedman, E. (2014). Legal landscape. Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 31(3), 51-54.

Kaplin, W., & Lee, B. (2007). The law of higher education. New York, NY: Jossey-Bass.

Strunk, K. (2012). Policy poison or promise: Exploring the dual nature of California school district collective bargaining agreements. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48(3), 506-547.

Wisconsin State Legislature. (2015). Web.

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