This whole kerfuffle came about because a couple of parents complained about the books. It's unclear to me whether proper procedure was followed. Did the interim superintendent follow procedure? Is there procedure? (I don't know the details though, so I can't say for sure about that. I understand that some of the school board members are very conservative.) In any case. . . speculation aside. . . the ACLU of Michigan has written the district a letter. According to the ACLU's press release,
the ACLU of Michigan reminded the district that although schools have broad discretion in setting curriculum, the U.S. Supreme Court has held repeatedly that banning books because they offend some runs afoul of the First Amendment. While parents have the right to guide their own child’s education, that right does not extend to restricting other students’ educational opportunities. (Emphasis added.)In addition, I'll just note the tremendous irony of banning books in a high school AP class because of "mature subjects." I mean, AP classes are supposed to be like college. College is all about reading books that challenge us! In case you're wondering about the reasons that we shouldn't be trying to create colleges out of high schools, I think you just saw one reason in action--it makes some parents too uncomfortable.
The Ann Arbor schools have joined the twitterverse! Follow them at @a2schools. Follow Saline schools at @salineschools. Follow Dexter schools at @dexterschools. And follow Ypsilanti schools at @ypsischools. Saline schools also have several sub-twitter feeds (the high school principal, the athletics department, etc.) Oh, and follow me at @schoolsmuse.
Some interesting things have been going on at the first charter school I ever profiled, Ann Arbor Learning Community, and they illuminate some of the issues around charter schools, even for schools that are locally organized, non-profit charters. Annarbor.com has an article, Parents fight for reinstatement of teacher at Ann Arbor Learning Community, which describes how a well-liked teacher was put on administrative leave. In examining this issue, let's leave aside the question of whether the administrative leave was the right decision--I don't know anything about their personnel matters.
The first thing that struck me has to do with teacher turnover--something that is often mentioned in critiques of charter schools. Not only has the "dean" of the school, Ticheal Jones, just left (in the middle of the school year!) for "personal" reasons, but according to the article, "Parents say the teacher’s forced absence is the third instance of this nature that the school has experienced in less than a year."
The second thing that struck me has to do with control of hiring and firing. In a typical public school district, the ultimate authority for hiring and firing would reside with the superintendent's office, but there would generally be a human resources department. And really, what is more important than the personnel you have teaching and working with the students? Here, it turns out, the hiring and firing is done by a group called Michigan Educational Personnel Services.
Carlie Lockwood, the vice president of human resources for MEP stressed that MEP works very closely with the dean, who is responsible for conducting teacher evaluations. But wait. . . didn't the dean just leave? I'm not sure why, or where that leaves things. There is an interim dean, and he was also recruited by MEP.
According to the article,
While AALC is a self-managed charter school, it contracts with Brighton-based MEP for its teachers and staff, said Malverne Winborne, director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office.This is a typical arrangement for charter schools, particularly smaller charter schools--the schools hire someone else to do the hiring and firing of teachers (the teachers aren't really working for AALC, they are working for MEP) because the school (board) doesn't believe they have the skills or resources to do the hiring themselves. And by outsourcing this critical role, the school board gives up much of the local control that they ostensibly wanted in the first place.
“MEP hires and places the employees,” Winborne said.
EMU is the authorizer of AALC, a K-8 school that was founded in 1997.
And what does EMU's Charter Schools Office have to say about this? Not much, at least not publicly.
As much as we complain about the "transparency" issues with our local public district school boards, next to the charter schools they look crystal clear, and the charter school boards' transparency looks very muddy. In fact, that may be because as it turns out, those local charter school boards have precious little power or control. At least, right now, that's the way it seems to me.