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Fargo School Board backs decision made during bullying investigation

Level 4 complaints, brought before the Fargo School Board, are exceptionally rare. This is the first case to reach this level in at least 10 years, said district spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell.

Fargo Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022..png
The Fargo School Board meets Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
Screenshot via Fargo Public Schools
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FARGO — The Fargo School Board voted 6-2 on Tuesday, Jan. 11, to approve a decision made by Superintendent Rupak Gandhi involving a conflict between an administrator and a district employee .

Board members Jim Johnson, Nikkie Gullickson, Robin Nelson, Brian Nelson, Tracie Newman and Rebecca Knutson voted for the motion, which will provide a written response to the district’s teachers that upon review, the board determined the process followed by Gandhi regarding the employee's complaint was appropriate.

Board members Jennifer Benson and David Paulson voted against the motion. Board member Seth Holden was not present.

Board members also discussed the need to sit down with the district's teachers union, known as the Fargo Education Association, and to later reevaluate if current guidelines need changes.

District policy outlines the protocols through each complaint level. Employees discuss a complaint with a direct supervisor at Level 1, which is then brought to a principal at Level 2, then the superintendent at level 3 and to the school board at Level 4.

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Level 4 complaints are exceptionally rare. This is the first case to reach this level in at least 10 years, said district spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell.

The conflict between Bennett Elementary's assistant principal, Julie Frank, and positive behavior interventionist Carol Saville began in September 2021, and the complaint was first filed on Nov. 5.

The teachers union is representing Saville and pushing for a rare response from Fargo Public Schools regarding the conflict involving a claim of bullying and what they say is a different complaint alleging unprofessional, intimidating, threatening and disrespectful conduct.

“To this day, Carol has not had a single discussion or an apology from this administrator. Not one,” FEA president Kim Belgarde told the board. She handed Rebecca Knutson, president of the board, a copy of the Level 4 complaint.

Saville’s complaint went through three administrative levels and was considered “unsubstantiated” at Level 3.

“We understand you are not going to decide the outcome made by this administration if it was correct or not, we are hoping you have a discussion with your cabinet about the importance of policy decisions being consistent for all staff. You can see why a majority of public school staff are considering leaving the profession when decisions like these create an administration vs. employee outcome. We need to do better,” Belgarde said during the meeting.

The FEA is asking that policies that were combined during the initial investigation be separated, and that all violations should apply for staff in all district positions.

Belgarde said the teachers union is pushing the argument that the district should not have combined both complaints into one investigation, a claim that the district's attorney, Tara Brandner, said was wrong.

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"The FEA is reading the policies incorrectly," Brandner said during the board meeting. "This policy applies to any employee of the school district."

"Yes, it does apply to any employee, but as my sixth year as FEA president I know policy and that contract backwards and forwards," Belgarde told The Forum after the meeting.

Belgarde said she will be bringing the issue up again at the next board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Related Topics: FARGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS
C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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