A few weeks ago, I was tipped off about a move by Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Tim Cuneo to weaken the present system of citizen District Advisory Committees. Their members include parents, community members and district staff and who report to and advise the Board of Education directly.

Cuneo recommended reducing the size of the approximately eight DACs from 20 members to 11 members and instituting term limits to promote turnover. Cuneo also proposed new policy allowing the superintendent to form DACs that report directly to him.

Parents were not pleased. Some viewed it as a move by Cuneo, who I’ve heard has been nicknamed “Napoleon,” to give top administrators more power while limiting parental influence with the school board.

One of the largest and most active DACs is the Special Education District Advisory Committee (SEDAC) which informs the school board on issues involving families with students who have special needs.

SEDAC member Claudia Landis said Cuneo’s proposal would help remove current committee members that have been whistle blowers and “would specifically target SEDAC.” She noted that SEDAC has a large membership. Reducing it to 11 members would “weaken the committee.” SEDAC has been critical of school policy on special education and questioned the use of gag orders imposed on parents who signed settlement agreements in disputes over their children’s education plans.

So far, the Board of Education has left term limits and membership reductions for DACs for future discussion.

Cuneo is also advancing a brand new, separate policy referred to as a “civility policy” that would empower administrators to ban parents from campuses if they voiced disagreement with staff, procedures or policy in an “uncivil” manner, at any time including at public meetings. What constitutes “uncivil” is not defined.

Calling the proposed policy “uncivil” and regressive, parents say it would put the SMMUSD into a position to remove parents or complainers from facilities for a wide range of vague reasons. I e-mailed Cuneo and asked why the policy was proposed. He wrote, “The (school) board requested that a civility policy be drafted after they reviewed all district policies this last spring.”

What about the parent or citizen who may become the victim of disrespect or rudeness from school personnel? Cuneo’s response: “The draft policy covers all employees and the public. The policy promotes mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct among district employees, parents and the public.”

But, having read the policy recommendations, I found them to be directed against parents — with no protection from abuse by teachers or staff. Its language has no mention of any obligation by SMMUSD employees to be civil to parents or even the public!

The Lou Barber Report drafted last year, in part, to resolve problems in the district, especially those involving special ed parents, suggested “special education administrators need to be trained to ensure that all staff and parents are treated with civility and respect.”

Barber suggested the school board review policy and that the superintendent needed to fully implement policy provisions to ensure a positive and professional working environment. Special ed parents told me that Barber’s recommendations are not being implemented but Cuneo disagrees. “This recommendation is being implemented. The area that needed the most attention was the IEP process.”

The IEP or Individualized Educational Plan (a major source of parent/district disagreements) allows educators to develop a plan to help kids with disabilities to succeed in school. Cuneo e-mailed that 68 parents who participated in IEP meetings from April through June 18 responded to a feedback survey.

The district’s tally shows 97 percent of parents thought the IEP meetings were productive and 95.5 percent thought the district’s Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) met a child’s unique needs and was generally agreeable. A number of parents refused to participate in the survey. With roughly 1,400 students in special education, one can only wonder why so few parents responded.

If Cuneo’s civility proposal were to be implemented, it needs to define civility with both staff and parents held to the same standards of behavior. Such a policy would help create a process to de-escalate strained relationships arising from “uncivil” behavior and avoid punitive reactions such as removing people from meetings, banning them or even arrest.

The district is on a slippery slope because bad policy could lead to restricting free speech and repression of input school officials don’t want to hear about or deal with — and create even more conflict.

No tricks at PAL-loween, just treats

Attention ghosts and goblins! The Police Activities League’s PAL-loween is on Halloween, Saturday, Oct. 31 at everybody’s favorite haunt, the Barker Hanger/Air Center, 3223 Donald Douglas Loop South (at the Santa Monica Airport), 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s great fun for spirits of all ages with lots of candy, treats, games, costume contests and entertainment. It’s free, too. Put on your scariest face and join us. Need a costume idea? Vampires are hot this year. Woooooo!

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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