Board discusses code of conduct, social media policy
No action was taken by the Woodford County Board of Education at its Jan. 25 work session to adopt a code of conduct or a social media policy. Sherri Springate’s motion to adopt a Standards of Practice instead of changing its current code of conduct failed by 4 to 1 vote, but the board did direct its attorney to draft language about social media posts as a possible addition to its code of ethics. Recently-elected board member Angela McKale suggested adding social media language to the code of ethics. “It really all comes down to personal responsibility,” she said. “I don’t think we can force that on anybody and I don’t know how a policy can force personal responsibility on somebody.” After Springate’s failed motion to adopt a Standards of Practice, like one written for Fayette County school board members, board Chair Dani Bradley said, “We all agree that the aspirations are of merit. It’s just that we’ve already got the code of ethics that we feel is adequately definitive.” If the Woodford board had adopted Standards of Practice, it would not obligate individual board members to sign it, said Attorney Grant Chenoweth. Springate said she asked for a work session on developing a code of conduct and social media policy for board members after receiving feedback from the public. Board member Allison Richardson has been criticized by parents, teachers and others for social media posts on her personal Facebook page, which they said were insensitive. “Part of my hesitation in adopting (a new code of conduct or policy) formerly, and not just using it as a motivational tool for us to review periodically and make sure that we feel like we’re individually doing it,” said Bradley, “is I feel in a lot of cases we’re struggling to abide by the original code of ethics in that our meetings take left turns when they don’t have to, when we revisit decisions that have been made.” Bradley said she doesn’t have any interest in making conflicts more personal when decisions are being made. In response, Springate said, “Part of moving forward also involves just saying, if you feel like I’m rehashing something … I would like for it to be pointed out to me when it’s happening … because I want to learn and I want to do better. But to be quite honest, I don’t believe that I’ve done that.” The board already has a code of ethics, including language that members “recognize their duty to listen as well as to lead, respect opinions which differ from their own, reflect that no one member acts or speaks for the Board, and remember that final actions, made by majority vote in an official meeting, should be supported by all members.” “I certainly don’t want to use the Standards of Practice and the Code of Ethics as something to hit other board members over the head with or to be hit over the head with,” Springate said. She suggested changing language so board members will hold themselves accountable to the commitments in a Standards of Practice, instead of being held accountable by fellow members. Chenoweth pointed out that board members do not play a role in policing their own members, and do not have any authority to discipline one another or remove a member from office. Therefore, he said any type of code of conduct or code of ethics for board members is all aspirational. “There’s a danger of either going too far in trying to restrict each other’s protective speech … or just the danger of misleading your constituents into believing there’s an enforceable policy that doesn’t really have any teeth,” Chenoweth said. He said any notion that a board member has not lived up to his or her obligations or hasn’t been a good board member is answered at the ballot box every four years or by removal from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office or Kentucky Board of Education. He said the board could have an expectation for its members to state their views on social media are not the views of the board. He noted ideas and written expressions on social media are protected as free speech by the First Amendment.