By LINDA LOBECK
IRON MOUNTAIN - The Iron Mountain School District Board of Education held a special meeting that included a hearing process for three grievances brought by the Iron Mountain Education Association (IMEA).
This was the third step in the grievance process for the IMEA, which represents the teaching staff at Iron Mountain. The first two steps were to bring the grievances to the building principal and superintendent, who both denied them.
Before the school board, the three grievances were discussed and all pertained to the online classes available to Iron Mountain High School students.
During the discussion of the third grievance, the union representatives dropped all three grievances. They agreed that they would not proceed to bring the grievances to level 4, which would entail the issues being brought before a neutral arbitrator, said Supt. Tom Jayne.
If the board had denied the grievances, the IMEA would have had five days to drop them or go to the fourth level of the grievance procedure and file for an arbitrator.
Jayne added that the board and union representatives collectively agreed to meet on their concerns through the curriculum and policy committees of the board.
The first grievance concerned the teacher of record/teacher mentor for online classes offered through Odysseyware at IMHS. The grievance alleged a violation of the Michigan Department of Education pupil accounting manual. The union stated that the members are required to follow Michigan guidelines as well as board policy and the issue was first raised in the first semester but no remedy was made.
The school guidance counselor is the teacher of record, yet the high school principal is the person to whom the grades are submitted. The online classes must have a certified mentor supplied by the school district. According to the IMEA, the guidance counselor meets that requirement and falls under the union membership, but the building principal does not.
IMEA member Danielle Dumais also told the board that they have a problem with students needing help with assignments and not having anywhere to go since the mentor is also the guidance counselor. If they have trouble with a course, there is no teacher of record to help them.
"If the kids get stuck, they have no help," Dumais said.
The board noted that the guidance counselor is in her office and the building principal can be sent an e-mail with any problems that the student might be having with a class.
Since the grievance was made after the start of the second semester on Jan. 20, the school district was audited by the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District and found to be in compliance with the state pupil accounting practices.
Supt. Tom Jayne had a letter from Mary Ellen Welcher of the DIISD about the audit of the middle school and high school. It stated that there had not been in violation, and that the virtual learning at the school district is set up appropriately.
The second grievance stated that the online courses should be set up and be counted the same way as a regular high school course. Currently the online classes are on a pass/fail system with the credit going towards graduation. The class does not affect the student's grade point average as other high school classes do.
The decision to count the classes on a pass/fail system was made in 2006-07. Through board policy, the school district has allowed students to get credit towards graduation by taking online classes in a number of different subject areas that are not taught by the school district.
Board members felt that this should be discussed in the curriculum committee, but everything has been followed appropriately by the school district concerning online classes.
The third grievance stated that the students taking online classes are unattended and unsupervised in the school building. The union said that this is a violation of board policy.
The administration said that several of the students taking online classes are self-scheduled for this program and have access to the computer labs to complete their work. A self-scheduled online student is not required to be supervised.
The union members said that this was brought up to the administration during the first semester and a remedy made provide supervision of the students using the media center. Their objection was that this supervision didn't continue into the second semester.
Board member Steve Brooks said that it may be an issue that needs to be addressed, but isn't a violation of board policy or the teacher's contract.
Jayne added that there hasn't been one incident or complaint made that the students taking online classes are running loose in the building or unsupervised while in the confines of the school building.
"Some of these students do their online work at home if they want to as a senior and receive parental permission," he said.
Jayne added that Odysseyware is a new source this year to use for online classes and is approved by the state of Michigan.
"We saved some money going with this service. There have been some growing pains the first year in making sure there is a teacher on the other end to help students. For most students, they take the online classes for electives with an occasional student taking English or government because they failed it and re-taking it doesn't fit into their schedule," Jayne said.
He added that Gov. Snyder promotes online learning for high school students in Michigan.
"It's a positive experience, because it can prepare the student for life after high school where they will have to use online learning to take additional education classes or with on-the-job learning. The district is in 100 percent compliance with the state pupil accounting requirements," Jayne said.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.