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Monday, July 26, 2010

Turn Over a Rock...

Here's an interesting discovery, courtesy of Dan Dempsey: RCW 42.56.040.

This State law requires local government agencies, such as school districts, to prominently display and make available for inspection any and all rules of procedure. The District must, by state law, provide written statements of the nature and requirements of all formal and informal procedures and statements of general policy or interpretations of general applicability formulated and adopted by the agency.

Think of a District procedure, especially one of those less transparent ones, such as Program Placement. According to state law, the District is required to have a written statement of the procedure and process used to determine program placement. I don't believe they do. I don't know how specific these statements need to be, but I can't imagine that the description currently provided is sufficient. Think of some of other more opaque decisions made by the District. Think of some of their more ill-defined processes - such as how a school gets a waiver from using the Board-adopted materials, how a student earns high school credit for a class taken in middle school, or how principal assignments are made.

Now check out this bit at the end:

"Except to the extent that he has actual and timely notice of the terms thereof, a person may not in any manner be required to resort to, or be adversely affected by, a matter required to be published or displayed and not so published or displayed."

Does this means that no principal can be re-assigned against their will unless the District has a written statement that describes how those assignments are made?

Dan has already sent the Board a letter following up on the implications of this law and asking for the procedures for how to submit evidence to the Board for their use in making a decision. He also asked for the procedure for how the District determines what is evidence for inclusion in the certified correct record of evidence.

I know the first written statement I want to see: How the Board responds to reports of policy violations and enforces policy.

My next request will be for the procedure the Board uses to review the Superintendnet's program placement decisions.

14 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Of all the things that the District does, I think the least transparent process is policy enforcement. Until the recent audit by the state auditor, the Board would not even acknowledge that they had a responsibility to enforce policy; they said it was the superintendent's job. Now, in that revisionist history way that the District has, they freely acknowledge that the Board has a duty to enforce policy, they deny ever having suggested otherwise, and they claim that they have been making great efforts to enforce policy all along.

Of course, at the same time they cannot name any policies they have enforced and they cannot describe HOW they enforce policy. After all, none of the Board acts on their own and none of them has the sole authority to direct the superintendent. So they can only enforce policy as a group. Since any time a group of them get together it constitutes a meeting, and all of the requirements of the Washington Open Meetings Act apply, and we don't have any meeting minutes about enforcing a policy, it's pretty safe to conclude that they are not enforcing policy. At least not as they now claim.

I don't mind it when people lie to me, but I'm insulted if they don't bother to invent a credible lie that's more than paper thin.

Michael said...

@Charlie: "Does this means that no principal can be re-assigned against their will unless the District has a written statement that describes how those assignments are made?"

No, I would think not. Those re-assignments fall within the employer-employee relationship, and not within the context of the Public Records Act.

Charlie Mas said...

Michael, I was thinking of the state law that requires local government organizations (such as the school district) to have written procedures. I seriously doubt they have such procedures for principal assignments. Consequently, the law appears (to my untrained understanding) to allow those adversely affected by undocumented procedures to have them reversed.

As far as I know, however, the statement that the Superintendent has final say on principal assignments may be all of the decision-making process documentation necessary and everyone's work site is contingent on her whim.

dan dempsey said...

C Mas said:

"I know the first written statement I want to see: How the Board responds to reports of policy violations and enforces policy."

Well since I've been complaining about D44.00 and D45.00 for at least three years perhaps I need to notify them of a policy violation. If I do will I get a more substantive response than in the past?

Sahila said...

Well, I have been observing repeated violations of policy C54.00 ... who shall I ask to enforce that policy, do you think?

Michael said...

@Charlie: ",,,the law appears (to my untrained understanding) to allow those adversely affected by undocumented procedures to have them reversed."

I agree, but not within the context of the employer-employee relationship. My boss can direct me to work in any location my firm has. I can say no, but that would mean, most likely, that I would not haev a job.

If there is no written procedure to obtain public records, then a person cannot be made to follow some other procedure to obtain those records. RCW Chaper 42.56, and RCW 42.56.040 is about public records and obtaining them and how government is not supposed to put up unneccesary road-blocks in order for the public to obtain such records. It has no context or meaning within the scenario you described with assignments of principals. This specific section of the law only says that they have to have written procedures for people to request public records and taht the public cannot be forced to resort to some other, unwritten and unpublished method.

Charlie Mas said...

Ah! I see your meaning, Michael.

I was thinking that the law means that if the District can't show a written statement about how they make their decisions then a decision can be undone. That's not what it means. It means that if a procedure requires a person to take an action and, because the procedure was un-published, the person was un-aware that they had to take that action, then they can't be adversely affected by their failure to follow the secret procedure.

For example, the District nows allows families to request credit for high school level classes taken in middle school, but the procedure for requesting that credit is not available. The District may set a time limit on when the credit may be requested (such as within the first five weeks after starting high school), but if the procedure isn't published then the District can't hold people to that time limit and must allow late requests.

Anna said...

No, I think it is specific to the PRA. Meaning that the district can't make you follow a procedure related to requesting records that it not posted.

Unknown said...

Charlie,

Since it's clear from Michael's and Anna's comments that, contrary to Dan's original interpretation, the statute has nothing to do with procedures outside the public records act, I would humbly suggest that you consider adding an "update" paragraph at the end of the original post providing that information. I suggest this because in my experience many blog readers do not choose to delve into the comments. And your original post certainly gives the impression that Dan's original interpretation of the statute is accurate.

Thanks to Michael and Anna for pointing this out.

Rosie

dan dempsey said...

Rosie,

Excellent Point.

dan dempsey said...

Rosie,

Excellent point BUT .....

I should note that it seems your belief and Michael's depends on treating the law's sections after section (a) as if they are sub sets of (a), which they are NOT.

Read these sub sections as separate from (a) which they are and I believe you will get a different meaning.

(a) Descriptions of its central and field organization and the established places at which, the employees from whom, and the methods whereby, the public may obtain information, make submittals or requests, or obtain copies of agency decisions;

(b) Statements of the general course and method by which its operations are channeled and determined, including the nature and requirements of all formal and informal procedures available;

(c) Rules of procedure;

(d) Substantive rules of general applicability adopted as authorized by law, and statements of general policy or interpretations of general applicability formulated and adopted by the agency; and

(e) Each amendment or revision to, or repeal of any of the foregoing.

Unknown said...

Chapter 42.56 RCW is titled the "Public Records Act." In 25 years of practicing law, I've never seen a provision in one act be applied across the Board. I spent soem time time morning trying to think of some clever argument by what a provision in the "apples" category might relates to "oranges," but came up completely blank.

Bottom line, Michael/Anna were correct in their conclusion that RCW 42.56.040 is limited to that Act. Hence the request for procedures can only be for those related to the PRA.

If this provision were part of RCW 42.04, which sets forth the "General Provisions" that are applicable to all "Public Officers and Agencies," (which is what Chapter 42 governs overall) you would have a point. But since it's contained within the PRA, it does not support a request for the kinds of procedures you requested to see in your letter, or that Charlies suggested might be intriguing to request in his original post.

Michael said...

Rosie is right, Dan.

The section quoted in Charlie's post is section 2 of that specific statute. The sections you quote ARE subsections of section 1. You cannot take them separately. Besides, that chapter of the RCW, of which .040 is a subsection itself, is all about the Public Records Act.

dan dempsey said...

Michael,

Thanks so much for the very clear explanation.

Dan