The Clark County School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a corrective action plan after being notified that it was violating the state’s reorganization law.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert sent a noncompliance notice July 5 to School Board President Irene Cepeda. The Review-Journal obtained the document through a public records request.
The board had 30 days to submit a plan for complying with a section of the state’s reorganization law, which means the deadline is Thursday.
The law — passed in 2017 by the Legislature — aims to give more control to individual schools in the Clark County School District in areas such as staffing and budgeting. The nation’s fifth-largest district has about 300,000 students and more than 360 campuses.
According to the noncompliance notice, which cites a section of Nevada Administrative Code, it’s a requirement under the reorganization law to have a “dispute resolution process for issues relating to retaliation and reprisal as a result of the performance of duties as a member of an organizational team.”
The notice follows a dispute between the school district and Lyon Middle School’s school organizational team in Overton, a town in the Moapa Valley about an hour northeast of Las Vegas.
Ebert said in her letter that a dispute resolution hearing was held June 9 between the school district and Lyon’s organizational team.
According to a hearing report obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Lyon’s team alleged that the district conducted an investigation into COVID-19 “mask-wearing violations” at the school to retaliate against Principal Ken Paul — who retired this summer — because he testified before the State Board of Education “regarding the District’s failing and shortcomings” in complying with the reorganization law.
Hearing officers concluded that Paul, who was a member of his school’s organizational team, was not the victim of retaliation, according to the report.
The school district did not respond to a Review-Journal request for comment.
Paul told the Review-Journal on Wednesday that the Lyon organizational team was trying in part to prove that the school district did not have a dispute resolution process, and doing so was a big win.
“They wouldn’t ever tell us that directly,” he said.
He said he is passionate about the reorganization law because he believes it’s the one thing that would transform education within the district, if most of the money and decision-making power went to schools.
But the district, he said, has for five years done everything it can to avoid implementing the law.
Lindsey Dalley, a community member representative on both the Lyon organizational team and Moapa Valley High School organizational team, told the Review-Journal on Tuesday that the school district’s investigation of mask mandate compliance was “a ruse to send a chilling message.”
“We knew this was retaliation,” he said.
He told trustees at Wednesday’s School Board work session that it’s critical to know that the outcome of the retaliation hearing “turned on a legal technicality” — that Paul’s immediate supervisor started on the job after his June 2021 remarks to the state board, so she wasn’t aware of his testimony.
Dalley said he’d like to be part of the solution in creating a real dispute resolution system where the school district isn’t “judge and jury.”
Corrective action plan
The district’s chief strategy officer, Kellie Kowal-Paul, told trustees on Wednesday that the district expected the noncompliance notice from the state.
She said the Lyon team’s complaint was the first retaliation claim the district has received under the reorganization law.
In April, Kowal-Paul presented recommendations to the School Board after trustees requested a comprehensive reorganization policy. The policy will include a dispute resolution process.
If the state approves the timeline, the district will present a draft regulation to the School Board no later than Sept. 15 and a final regulation for possible adoption no later than Nov. 1.
Employee matters are handled through collective bargaining, Superintendent Jesus Jara said.
The reorganization law dispute resolution process does not apply to employees, he said, and personnel matters are confidential.
The school district redacted details about the outcome of the June dispute hearing with Lyon Middle School in the noncompliance letter it provided to the Review-Journal. The district said in a response to a public records request that “confidential and privileged information” isn’t required to be produced under the public records law.
“The parties to the Dispute Resolution Hearing between the Mack Lyon Middle School Organizational Team and the Clark County School District were instructed by the hearing officers to maintain confidentiality of the dispute resolution proceedings,” the district said.
But the Review-Journal requested the same letter from the Nevada Department of Education, and that information was not redacted. It says the school district has not established a dispute resolution process, as required by law.
The notice of noncompliance was issued just two days before a July meeting of the State Board of Education, which has been looking for months into the topic of reorganization law compliance.
The state board approved a notice of intent to act on a regulation that outlines steps the state superintendent could take, including issuing a notice of noncompliance, requesting a corrective action plan, and appointing one or more compliance monitors. The board decided in a split vote to delete language about partial or full receivership.
Cepeda said during the Wednesday work session that she thinks the board has given the reorganization law much more time this year.
It’s always disheartening to hear comments that the district doesn’t want to comply with the law, she said, noting the district wants to be in compliance and will continue doing the work.
Trustee Evelyn Garcia Morales said the July 5 noncompliance notice from the state feels “very reactive” and counterproductive.
During a public comment period, parent and education advocate Anna Binder said she wanted to implore the School Board to be more visionary than reactive.
She said that as a taxpayer, she’s concerned that the draft corrective action plan has links that reference certain documents, but those aren’t posted online.
Ed Gonzalez — a community member who serves on a school organizational team and is actively involved with reorganization-law-related issues — said the district has done nothing to implement a dispute resolution process, noting it’s a perfect example of the reorganization law not being followed.
“I think there’s a lack of will,” he said.
Origin of dispute
In December, Lyon Middle School’s organizational team asked the school district to conduct an investigation, according to the hearing report.
Later that month, the district responded, saying the investigation into Paul’s actions is a “confidential personnel matter and is governed by the applicable collective bargaining agreement, and is not related to his performance of duties as a member of the SOT,” the report states.
In early January, Lyon’s organizational team sent a letter to Ebert requesting an investigation and received a response later that month saying “resolution by the Department of Education was appropriate,” according to the report.
Paul spoke during a June 2021 Nevada State Board of Education meeting and a September 2021 Clark County School Board meeting about reorganization law implementation.
He told the Review-Journal he received an email in September from a parent about mask-related compliance concerns, and Jara was included on it. From there, “all kinds of things started happening,” he said.
That included two inspections at the school by the Southern Nevada Health District and an unannounced site visit by the school district’s risk management office.
In mid-October, an “extensive investigatory conference” was conducted, and Paul was issued an oral warning and was directed to ensure protocols about mask wearing were properly implemented, according to the report.
A note in the report says the school district’s risk management office routinely conducted investigations into mask compliance, including six in 2020 and 13 in 2021.
“It is clear that Covid protocol compliance was an issue at many schools besides Lyon Middle School,” the note says.
Paul said the circumstances surrounding the dispute played a role in his decision to retire.
But, he said, he plans to continue to show up at meetings about the reorganization law — now, as a community member.