The Manhattan-Ogden school district’s crackdown on lighting, wall decorations and non-district furniture is intended to keep schools in compliance with fire and health regulations. However, the new enforcement policy has some teachers concerned, the teachers’ union representative told school board members Wednesday.
USD 383 recently updated its facilities manual to enforce more strictly fire and health code regulations, which prohibit items like lighting inserts and covers, after the school district had received several write-ups during building inspections.
Fire codes prohibit hanging items from walls, ceilings and doors in classrooms, so district administrators have cracked down on things like curtains and student work on the walls. Similarly, string lights and lamps are considered a fire risk, so teachers now have to take those items home.
The district also must ensure that classrooms and other spaces are adequately lit, so lighting covers are no longer allowed.
District officials also prohibited non-cleanable furniture — such as fluffy couches, beanbags and chairs — because of bedbug and lice concerns. The school pays $5,000 to $10,000 each time a school needs to be treated for bedbugs, and pest control companies don’t provide any warranties for the service, as reinfestation is common.
That policy is being phased in, though, to allow teachers to take home bigger furniture over breaks throughout the rest of the year.
“I know there are quite a few folks who are unhappy, but it’s for the betterment of our students and our staff,” said Matt Davis, director of maintenance.
But Erin Meyer-Gambrel, Manhattan-Ogden NEA president and a teacher at Bergman Elementary, said the new enforcement policies haven’t been consistent across schools. She said some teachers have been instructed to take home non-porous personal furniture like bookshelves or yoga balls that they provide for student use.
“Being the person who people contact and to be that voice and pulse of what’s going on, I’m concerned about climate,” Meyer-Gambrel said. “I’m concerned about schools. I’m concerned for my colleagues, not for myself. I don’t want this to be something that’s about me, because it’s not about me, but when you’re getting these phone calls and you’re getting these text messages and emails, it’s people who are wondering why they’re staying when the joy is gone. And it’s only the beginning of October. That’s concerning to me.”
Board member Jurdene Coleman asked Meyer-Gambrel if she thought the change in climate was because of the changes in building policies.
“I don’t think any educator would look anyone in the face and say it’s not stressful the first two months of school,” Meyer-Gambrel said. “However, that stress is compounded when policies are changing, communication is not as transparent as it could be, and balls are sometimes getting dropped in that communication pattern.”
Superintendent Marvin Wade said he probably already knew the answer to question, but he asked Meyer-Gambrel if she thought there was an appearance of insensitivity in making decisions without consulting with staff.
“Yes,” was Meyers-Gambrel’s only response.
Board members instructed district administration to come up with a plan to make sure the policies are consistent and uniform across buildings.
During the meeting’s public comment period, two students from Bergman Elementary told the board that they were concerned with another change in policy enforcement that removed their class pet rabbit from the classroom.
They said a previous interpretation of the board’s policy on animals allowed the rabbit as an instructional pet, as it provided for the students’ social-emotional needs.
The girls said they started a petition for the principal to reconsider the policy, and that it received 221 signatures. However, the principal declined that petition, they said.