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May 29, 2013

District approves student group policy

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

GROSSE POINTES — Preventing administrators and school board members from advising student groups was on the table, but that’s where it died during a Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education meeting May 20.

The board had two versions of a policy concerning student groups, and one version of policy 5840 included language that would keep building and district administrators and board members from serving as advisers. 

“I believe there’s a conflict of interest,” board Vice President Daniel Roeske said of situations in which a school principal would advise a student group. 

The policy that would have limited advisers failed by a 4-3 vote. A motion that approved a policy that did not prohibit the advisers based on their role in the district then passed by a 6-1 vote.

Board Treasurer Judy Gafa agreed with Roeske on the need to limit advisers.

“If there was a complaint and a building principal came to us, they would have a very difficult time saying no to us if we went to them,” she said of board members acting as advisers. “I do think there could be, and we have seen that there was, a conflict of interest.”

She said it’s the same problem with a principal advising because they are in charge of teachers and others in the school.

Others on the board had a different view.

School board Trustee Cindy Pangborn said this issue was raised after the problems that occurred prior to former presidential candidate and Sen. Rick Santorum’s visit. Pangborn is the adviser to South’s Young Americans for Freedom group, which brought Santorum to the school.

“If you look at the history, we have not had problems with our advisers in the past,” Pangborn said. “It hasn’t been discussed. There’s been no outcry, no discussion, no one kicked off their post as advisers.”

“A lot of this was brought about by rumors in this community,” she said, trying to set the record straight about issues surrounding the Santorum visit.

She said she doesn’t understand the conflict of interest argument because no one person makes a decision about things in the district. She said the schools don’t always have enough available advisers.

There had been public criticism over some of the district’s decisions about allowing Santorum to speak and then canceling before ultimately going forward with the speech. Board Secretary Lois Valente, who agreed with limiting advisers, explained that the Santorum issue just brought the policy of advisers to light.

Board Trustee Thomas Jakubiec held a similar view to Pangborn that it isn’t a conflict of interest. He said no district policies were violated due to the Santorum visit.

“Part of the responsibility for being on this board, for being an administrator … is having the integrity and the wherewithal to be above and beyond reproach,” Jakubiec said. “We are challenging our students and our staff to be leaders.”

Under the proposal to prevent administrator and board member advisers, teachers, support staff and community members would continue to be allowed to serve in such a capacity.

During the public comments portion of the agenda, several people stepped forward to talk.

Some stepped up for banning administrators and board members from advising, and others, including some students, spoke against doings so.

Those in favor of disallowing top district officials from advising groups cited conflict of interest as a reason they felt the action should be taken.

“Sometimes politics and public perception plays a role in school issues,” resident George McMullen Jr. said, adding that the conflict of interest could be real or perceived when it comes to areas like funding, marketing or other issues.

South High School senior Langston Bowens spoke in favor of continuing to allow the top officials to serve as group advisers.

He said sometimes teachers are not available.

“There are a lot of clubs out there that depend on board members and administrators to step up,” Bowens said, adding that he hasn’t seen a conflict of interest in the past.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.