PWCS Has Regulation Guiding Investigating Complaints Against Employees, Including Teacher Bullying

| February 14, 2018 | 1 Comment | Education

Photo by Ashleigh Henegar

At the Feb. 7 meeting of the Prince William County School Board, members of the Prince William Education Association spoke about the kinds of employment bullying and intimidation that some educators have experienced at the hands of their school leaders.

This past Tuesday, some Reagan Middle School teachers met with parents to discuss the workplace environment at their school. The Prince William Education Association continues to support those educators, and Bristow Beat is further investigating the incident.

While the school division does not have a specific regulation to address employee bullying, it does have a regulation (561.05-1) that addresses a multitude of infractions. This regulation provides a means for employees to file a complaint against a coworkers or superiors for acting improperly, which can include bullying or exhibiting threatening behavior. 

It is also a regulation that governs filing a complaint when an employee is simply not doing his or her job.

Prince William County Schools is the second largest school district in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the largest employer in Prince William County, so it should not come as a surprise that it will have its share employee issues.

And when issues arise there are protocols in place to govern the school division’s response to them. 

“PWCS takes seriously any complaint about the actions of principals, other supervisors, or any of our more than 11,000 employees. Complaints are reviewed, investigated, and appropriate actions are taken to deal with them,” said Phil Kavits, Associate Superintendent for Communications and Technology Services. 

Due to the confidential nature of personnel matters, measures taken by the school division are not always obvious even to the person who file the complaint, explained Kavits, and outcomes may vary, depending upon the situations.

“In some cases, further action may be needed, but in others complaints are unfounded,” said Kavits.

The Regulation governing complaints against a school employee is 561.05-1 “Complaints Against Employees Other Than Discrimination or Grievances.

It states: “Any complaints concerning employees which allege improper conduct or a failure to fulfill job responsibilities shall be viewed seriously and investigated thoroughly.”

According to the regulation, complaints filed by an anonymous source will not be investigated unless unlawful behavior is alleged. 

Once a complaint is filed, it will trigger a prompt “informal” investigation, conducted by the lowest level administrator necessary.

“It is the objective of the Prince William County School Board that a complaint be processed as rapidly as possible, and in a manner which does not interfere with the normal operation of the school. Every effort will be made to complete the investigation within ninety (90) days of a written complaints.”

The regulation also states that retaliation against the complainant is prohibited.

The informal investigation includes a discussion between the nearest, lowest level administrator (when appropriate) and the complainant. That administrator should next talk to possible witnesses. The accused will also be informed of the situation and can have a witness present. 

If the issue is not resolved, the complainant can lobby a more formal complaint. A formal complaint is reviewed by the Office of Risk Management and Security Service and referred to higher level administrators.

Employees are expected to be cooperative and truthful in sharing pertinent facts to any investigation,” and providing false or misleading information can be grounds for disciplinary action.

The Associate Superintendent for Human Resources is expected to monitor the situation and implement regulations. Information gathered by Risk Management and Security Services is shared with the Deputy Superintendent and the Associate Superintendent of Human Resources. They and the appropriate superintendent will decide whether the allegation is “founded” or “unfounded” and what if any disciplinary action or remedy should be pursued. 

Information gained from an investigated complaint may inform the decision to renew or terminate an administrator’s contract, but this process is not detailed within said regulation. 

Further information is detailed within the regulation.

However, many feel that principals and assistant principals are afforded too many chances to succeed. For instance, according to Communications Director Diana Gulotta, administrators can be moved to a new school at any time. There is no policy that says they need to remain in a position while under a noncriminal investigation or under disciplinary action. However, teachers are not afforded the same opportunities.

Principal Alfie Turner at Reagan Middle School has worked as an administrator at four schools since 2006, something parents and teachers find troublesome.

A group of parents and teachers at Ronald Reagan Middle School in Haymarket are looking for a stricter regulation from the school division and school board to govern situations when teachers are bullied, threatened or when an administrator creates a hostile work environment. They want administrators held accountable.

According to one Reagan parent, parents and teachers at Reagan ask that the school principal at least be placed on administrative leave. At this point, they hope she will not simply be relocated to another school.

Teachers want additional changes as well. As PWEA members said at the Feb. 7 school board meeting, employee matters are handled through the Human Resources Department (HR) which oversees both the complainant and the accused, even if the accused is a supervisor. Then, the accuser has no way of knowing the result of the investigation.

Brentsville School Board member Gil Trenum informally proposed during his school board members time that the school division hire an ombudsman, to evaluate the situation from a neutral standpoint. It was the same suggestion he made when a Bristow elementary school experienced similar problems with its principal. 

Other school board members had shown an interest in helping teachers who are experience bullying. However, beyond showing support, board members have the ability to change policy while the school division is confined to work within the parameters of existing policies and regulations. 

Kavits noted that leadership issues are not the norm in the school division. “We have great reason to be proud of the vast majority our principals and other leaders.” 

Prince William Education Association President Riley O’Casey made a similar statement, though the association wants a seat at the table to help the school division create a more healthy environment for educators and students.

Local lawmakers are also looking into what they can do to prevent toxic workplace environments. Del. Luke Torrian (D-Woodbridge) of the Virginia General Assembly has proposed a bill (HB 1044) that seeks to promote healthy workplaces for educators and prohibit abusive environments. More to follow on that legislation and the situation with teacher bullying in Prince William County Schools.

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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Category: Education

Comments (1)

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  1. Pendragon says:

    It’s obvious from reading this article where the problem lies. There is another unprotected group out there–the assistant principals are probably also being bullied.

    It sounds like its time for the principal to get sent to the Hill to count textbooks and for the assistants to be rotated out. Bring in a whole new team. The staff and students deserve a clean start.

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