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Berkeley schools policies ready for review

September 03, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A revamped Berkeley County schools policy on harassment and violence and a new policy on political activities will be available for employees and the public to review over the next month.

"It was initially developed in 1987 and is completely out of date," Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Charles Fritsch said Tuesday night of the existing harassment policy.

"It dealt with employee-on-employee behavior, but left students out of the loop," he told the board. He said after the meeting that harassment between students has become more of a problem.

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"The state has broadened its policy on harassment to include violence," Fritsch explained to the board. The revamped policy would also put in place more formal reporting and investigative procedures.

According to a draft of the proposed policy, complaints of sexual, racial, religious and ethnic harassment or violence would first go to the building principal or director, then be forwarded to the school system's human rights officer. Within 10 days an investigation would be conducted by school officials or a designated third party.

After a written investigative report to the superintendent, either party would have 10 days to appeal the findings. Within 30 days of that, the superintendent or board of education must review the findings and recommend any disciplinary action, the policy stated.

For an employee, consequences range from a warning to being fired. For a student, a principal could suspend him or her for up to 10 days following an informal hearing. A formal hearing before the Board of Education could result in expulsion for up to a year, according to the draft.

The political activities policy is being sent out for its third comment period, according to Fritsch. "It received some very worthwhile comments," Fritsch said of the proposed policy's first two versions.

"If you read the most strict interpretation of our first policy, you could imply that you'd be restricted from driving to school with a bumper sticker on your car," he told the board.

The policy would allow the use of school property for partisan political functions as long as costs are borne by the sponsoring party or organization. That's consistent with board policy toward other community groups.

Solicitation of funds or the use of school materials on behalf of a candidate is prohibited. School personnel, in their capacity as employees, may not work for candidates.

The policy notes the board believes in exposing "mature students to persons of political prominence," but opposes any actions that would "transform the schools into arenas for political activities."

The board approved both policies for distribution and will review any comments received at its October meeting, said Board President Bill Sonnik.

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