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No women, no passion, no sarcasm: Lynn School Committee looks to update archaic rules

A snippet of the 1978 Rules of the School Commitee's policy on sarcasm.
A snippet of the 1978 Rules of the School Commitee's policy on sarcasm. (Courtesy of Lynn School Commitee)

LYNN — Women may be candidates for the School Committee.

The Rules of the School Committee haven’t been updated since 1978 and it shows,  with how the panel at the time believed it needed to explicitly state that women were allowed to run for a spot on the School Committee.

“They look like they’re from another time,” said School Committee member Jared Nicholson. “If you read them, that’s confirmed.”

Another oddity: There’s a whole section in the rules devoted to sarcasm, or namely forbidding teachers from using it.

The rule states, teachers are to “avoid sarcasm, ridicule and every appearance of passion in the administration of their schools.”

Apparently, showing passion for the subject you teach or student learning was considered unprofessional in the 1970s.

Another section expressly states school principals may not “permit any prizes or insignia to be awarded to pupils except as prescribed by the School Committee.” So, no gold stars for elementary students as rewards unless the committee formally signs off.

It’s archaic regulations like these that have prompted the Lynn School Committee to opt to update the Rules of the School Committee, a process that may involve trashing the entire document and starting over.

“We’re looking at language in here that says a woman can run for School Committee,” said Michael Satterwhite, a member of the panel. “If someone were to request our rules, that’s what they’re going to get and that’s not a good thing for us.”

Many of the rules that were adopted before the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 are now “illegal” or are in direct conflict with that legislation or Mass General law that has changed over the years. In those cases, the state statute has precedence, according to School Department Attorney John Mihos.

Last week, the School Committee voted to send the document to its Policy Subcommittee, which will devote numerous meetings to poring over each rule and deciding which ones to keep, change or eliminate altogether. Once that process is complete, the recommendations will come before the full committee for adoption.

Nicholson, chairman of the Policy Subcommittee, said the process will start with going over the existing policies on the School Committee website, which are model policies recommended by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC), but some of those listed online have not been formally adopted by the panel.

For the most part, the policies online differ from the 1978 document.

“The intent of the committee is to go through any outstanding policies that have not been adopted by the School Committee and either get them adopted or take them out of the policy book,” Mihos said. “We’re following the laws as they presently exist. There’s no contravention of any specific law or ordinance in the city. (They) just want to bring it up to date.”

Nicholson expects the process to take months. Work will involve going through meeting minutes to determine which policies have been approved since 1978 and adopt the recommended ones.

What piqued his interest in reviewing and updating existing School Committee policies was a question he had for Mihos about one of the rules. He was then sent the outdated document. If there were holes like the one that existed in response to his question, Nicholson said he felt there may be others and it would make sense to review the entire rulebook.

Another major portion of the outdated rules is the wealth of “power” given to the secretary of the School Committee.

The 1978 rules allow for the committee secretary to have control over school finances, some hiring decisions, building security, school transportation and even allows the secretary to assume the role of the superintendent in the absence of the superintendent and deputy superintendents on a given day.

The section prompted School Committee vice-chair Donna Coppola to address the current committee secretary, Mary Jules, at a recent meeting, joking, “you’ve got a lot of power, Mary.”

In other instances, the rules allow the School Committee to hire, suspend or fire teachers. These days, hiring is handled by Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler.

Nicholson said there’s a lot in the rules about teachers and substitutes, which is now all governed by collective bargaining. The document also allows the School Committee to hold meetings in private, which has since been superseded by the Open Meeting Law.

“It would be more transparent for us to have a coherent set of policies that can be read together, rather than having the official rules be cobbled together from what has superseded these old policies,” Nicholson said. “It’s much more transparent to have it in one place so someone who has a question of what the rules are knows where to look.”

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