Wednesday, February 8, 2023

New Hanover School Board weighing costs and benefits of policy revision, rewrite, or review

Primary election results are in and it appears the chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Education will not appear on the ballot in November. (Port City Daily/Johanna Ferebee)
The New Hanover County Board of Education plans to consider options for revising, rewriting, or reviewing its current policy manual. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — Next month, the New Hanover County Board of Education will discuss whether to subscribe to the professional policy revision or update service.

The service is offered by the North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA), the professional organization that offers support to school boards across the state. The NCSBA offers a variety of services, from creating custom policy manuals to compliance reviews to pre-written sections that are ready-made to insert into existing school policy.

Policy services

NCSBA’s most frequently used option is its web-based Policies to Lead the Schools (PLS) service, which offers 320 policies updated twice every year (in the fall and spring), or if legal changes require new or revised language. The PLS service is used by 110 of the state’s 115 school systems, according to Janine M. Murphy, NCSBA assistant legal counsel; it is not used by New Hanover County Schools (NHCS).

NCSBA is currently working with nine North Carolina school systems on custom policy manual revisions or review projects, including Guilford, Alamance-Burlington, Durham, Robeson, Cleveland, Henderson, Stanly, Kannapolis City, and Person counties.

Continual changes to state and federal law, as well as ever-evolving case law, mean that schools need to consistently update their policies, both to stay in legal compliance and to adapt to new types of issues.

The New Hanover County School district has had several recent policy-related issues, including the absence of a comprehensive district-wide Title IX policy. The Board’s new Title IX committee was formed to address this issue, but historically the lack of policy played a role in at least two situations where victims of sexual assault committed by another student said they continued to attend the same school as their attacker (you can read about those cases here and here). The school also recently revised its service animal policy, which had been in place in 2012 and allegedly violated federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Costs vs. benefits

The NCSBA services cover a range of costs. The lowest cost options include sample administrative policy sections, which cost between $300 and $400 per section; this is NCSBA’s newest option; 51 school districts have purchased some or all of the sections, according to Murphy.

The PLS service used by most schools costs $3,500 to initiate for the first year and $2,500 each following year for updates. A one-time compliance review, which makes sure a district’s current policies are up to date and in step with the law, costs $10,000. The most expensive option is the custom manual, which costs $29,000, divided into three payments.

According to Chairwoman Lisa Estep, board discussion was divided between the benefits of a policy review or rewrite and the costs of those options.

“The discussion last month was fairly divided, with the expense being the biggest concern, so I would anticipate that being brought up again, which is a justified conversation. But one of the primary responsibilities of our Board is to establish and maintain policies that are current with state and federal requirements, and I think we are also justified in asking if we are currently doing that successfully,” Estep said.

Estep said the board’s initial discussion last month was information only, and that the board considered a range of options, including the custom policy option, which would take about 18 months and cost the most. The board also discussed the $10,000 compliance review option as well as converting the Board’s current policy manual into the format used by PLS, which would cost $15,000.

NHCS Attorney Wayne Bullard will present information on which school districts have worked with NCSBA during the board’s December meeting, Estep said.

The Board of Education’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 3.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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