District, Shawnee Mission KNEA discuss possibilities for addressing teacher concerns with student discipline

Christy Ziegler and Doug Sumner of the district listened as members of the KNEA spoke during Thursday's negotiating session.
Christy Ziegler and Doug Sumner of the district listened as members of the KNEA spoke during Thursday’s negotiating session.

Teams from the Shawnee Mission School District and the local chapter of the Kansas National Education Association again on Thursday spent a good deal of a contract negotiating session discussing potential approaches to student discipline issues that teachers say have become problematic at a number of schools.

Negotiators were careful not to mention any specific buildings or situations in the course of the public session, but it was the second meeting where the issue of discipline had taken up a significant portion of the deliberations.

Karen Myers, the librarian at Nieman Elementary and a member of the five-person KNEA negotiating team, said teachers were looking for a way to ensure better communication and consistency from building level administrators in enforcing student discipline plans. She also said teachers were concerned that among the “.5 percent” cases where a student was violent, attacking fellow students or teachers, support resources were slow in coming after an incident.

“Why is it taking so long to get these kids the support they need?” Myers asked.

Doug Sumner, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, suggested the teachers and administration could form a committee to think through ways to more consistently enforce the discipline protocols the district already has on the books. The teachers’ representatives were open to the idea, but said they had concerns that some of the issues needed to be dealt with as soon as possible, and that the work of a committee may be too slow.

“We feel that this is a pretty timely issue,” Myers said.

The parties agreed to revisit the issue in future sessions to discuss steps to address the problems.

The teams also spent a good deal of time discussing the schedule and work loads of some elementary level special subjects teachers — like art and music teachers — who are at present teaching several sections of “combined classes” where students from several different homerooms meet together. The practice, which came about in response to implementation of the master schedule now used at Shawnee Mission elementaries, has disrupted the normal planning session schedule for many of the specials teachers and led to larger specials class sizes.

“The combined classes method is not in the best interest of our students,” said Lauren Ingraham, an art teacher and member of the KNEA negotiating team.

The district said it was open to considering new contractual language that would address the combined classes issue. Kenny Southwick, the current deputy superintendent who will become interim superintendent in July, said he hoped that some of the elementary school boundary changes proposed would balance out student enrollment and reduce the need for combined classes.

At the start of the negotiating session, the KNEA representatives said they were not amenable to the district’s suggestion at the last meeting that, should the district and the teachers union fail to reach an agreement ahead of the new school year, that the district would not be in favor of any contract that included retroactive pay for teachers back to the start of the new contract period starting July 1. Both parties emphasized they hoped a contract agreement would be reached before July 1, thus avoiding the matter entirely.

The next negotiating session will be Tuesday, May 23 at 1 p.m. at the Center for Academic Achievement.