BRADENTON – Manatee Schools' controversial Office of Professional Standards is in limbo since its former director, Debbie Horne, requested a transfer to an assistant principal position amid an investigation into allegations that an employee at Manatee High had repeatedly fondled a student. Recent internal emails as to what will now happen regarding investigations have triggered angry responses about what appears to be a troubling lack of protocol dating back to the department's inception in 2005.
At a January 25 board meeting, board member Julie Aranibar asked how internal investigations would be conducted if the director position would now be vacant. That evening, assistant superintendent Scott Martin emailed interim superintendent David Gayler and acting-interim superintendent William Vogel to make them aware that while it was mentioned that principals would now be expected to perform investigations at their schools, that was not exactly the case.
Martin explained that while principals routinely investigated some allegations or incidents, OPS had historically got involved to “investigate complex misconduct matters,” which “might ultimately result in a suspension for days without pay or a termination.” He acknowledged that the current situation was “not ideal” and said that as a “stop gap measure,” he'd implemented a policy in which district-level directors in the administration would now perform “OPS-level investigations.”
Martin went on to say that no instruction manual or SOP existed for the Office of Professional Standards, which Aranibar was shocked to discover. In an email to Darlene Reynolds, who served as assistant to both Vogel and Gayler and received all of their communications, she asked the acting superintendent, “How is it that we made a decision to do investigations without any standards, protocol or procedure manual?”
Aranibar called for the district to put a nepotism policy in place, as well as a disclosure by employees as to whom they are related to in the district, so that there are not conflicts of interest when a high-level investigation is being handled by someone who might have a relationship to the person they would be investigating. She also scolded the current policy for continuing to rely on personnel without adequate investigative training to conduct such queries.
Aranibar suggested that such matters be outsourced to a firm with human resources expertise that would be able to accurately investigate such matters, complaining that too many administrative law judge opinions had stated that negative reports had "no factual basis." “As a board member I cannot vote to remove someone's profession or position without a report that is factual,” wrote Aranibar, who was elected in 2010. She said it was clear that the district “ran a department of professional standards that was not professional nor operating by any standards.”
In his email, Martin said that the situation would require that he draft instructional materials for the directors and schedule training on investigating techniques, noting that more complex issues would have to be outsourced to local investigative agencies, adding “even that is not ideal.” Martin wrote that there was no clear direction as to the future of OPS and that he had opinions regarding its continuation that he would share with new superintendent Rick Mills (who will be sworn in Wednesday morning) at a time that Mr. Mills “deems appropriate.”
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