Professional Improvement Plan

Ozark School District Retaliation Against JROTC

Read the story of how the Major was forced from his position by the Ozark, MO School District. 

Professional Improvement Plan

If you have not already read the previous page, please review this section on on uniform regulations. This page continues the story of administrative abuse of authority which began with a summary here…

Immediately following my insistence that the District was in violation of its contractual obligations to the Army and was making our JROTC program non-compliant with Army regulations, the District served me with a Professional Improvement Plan, an administrative tool for reforming substandard employees, issued on 19 November, nine school days prior to my suspension.  It revolves around two issues: 1) my assisting a cadet in removing her full-hoop nose ring, and 2) my having permitted JROTC staff cadets to access our outdoor storage container without my being present with them.

JROTC-cadets-and-Major

Specifically, it alleges:

  1. The Major implemented a change in JROTC dress policy and procedure without proper notification to students and administration.
  2. The Major directed and assisted a student in removal of a body piercing.
  3. The Major inappropriately addressed two students who reported concerns of his actions.
  4. The Major has provided students access to district facilities while not properly supervising them.

At the beginning of the school year, one of our cadets showed up with a nose ring which Army JROTC regulations prohibit wearing in uniform.  When we began uniform wear in September, we directed her to remove it when in uniform.  As it wasn’t made to be removed and reinstalled, she requested latitude to attempt to conceal it instead.  We permitted her to try.  After several weeks of repeated efforts to conceal it proved unsuccessful, we informed her in late October that she would either have to remove it or quit wearing the JROTC uniform.  If the latter, she would either have to drop JROTC or fail out of JROTC due to lost uniform-wear points.

She responded that she was “ready to take it out” but would need help as her previous efforts to remove it had been unsuccessful.  Since it was a full-hoop nose ring with no hinge point, it couldn’t be removed without cutting the wire pulling the nose ring apart at the seam with pliers.  She asked me if I could bring in something she could remove it with.  Accordingly, I brought in a pair of wire cutters for her on 9 November.  After struggling on her own to try to cut it out, she requested my assistance.  We removed it together and then both proceeded directly to morning formation.

After formation, she showed a friend “Look what Major made me do.”  This friend, concerned that she would also have to remove her own nose ring (a simple stud, easily removed), reportedly insisted that she go file a complaint with the principal.  She declined.  The friend persisted, insisting that she was going to go render the report with or without this young lady’s assistance.  With the goading of a 3rd friend as well, she then consented to make a report.

Ozark High School Principal, Dr. Jeremy Brownfield

However the story was rendered to him, the high school principal, Dr. Brownfield, interpreted it as having involved my coercing the young lady and forcibly removing the nose ring against her will.  Understandably outraged, he promptly summoned me to explain.  I explained the context, including that this was done at her request.  In fact, she had asked me repeatedly over the course of a week and a half to bring in wire cutters for her.  She then asked me three times that morning for assistance removing the nose ring before I ultimately assisted her.  It would not have been possible for me to forcibly remove the nose ring without her full consent and cooperation.  It is utterly implausible that she was coerced or intimidated.  She previously sought me out multiple times a day for conversation.  She was extremely comfortable with me.  Even after having joined a classmate in rendering an evidently misleading report of the incident, she had no sense of there being a rift between us.  She came to me that same day or the next and asked if she could return to the Raider team which I coach and she had previously quit.  No cadet who felt I had violated them the way Dr. Brownfield supposed would follow it up by coming to me for permission to spend more time around me.  Ironically, my only agenda in that incident was clearly to facilitate a student – at her own request – to meet the conditions necessary to remain in JROTC.  She really valued her participation in our program.  In fact, she had switched her entire school schedule to online this year except for JROTC, which she was not willing to dispense with.

“No cadet who felt I had violated them the way Dr. Brownfield supposed would follow it up by coming to me for permission to spend more time around me.”

After her initial report to Dr. Brownfield, this young lady was evidently summoned to retell the story to District administrators. In that setting, she reports that she attempted to clarify the story. She insisted that she was presented with the available options and that she chose to remove the nose ring. She further emphasized that my assistance to her was provided at her own insistence. Nevertheless, she reports, the District didn’t care as they already had an agenda they wanted to use their version of her story to support.

The cadet’s written account of this states:

I already told the school board [probably was actually District administrators] when I talked to them that I didn’t mind at all and that I was just told that if I didn’t have it out for uniform wear, I believe it was either no points or out of the battalion. But we had tried at the Leavenworth Raider Meet and couldn’t get it out so he said he had wire cutters but told me I had to do it because he knew he would be in trouble. I was scared so obviously I psyched myself out and thought I couldn’t do it. But everyone else was busy formed up for battalion pictures I believe, so he just cut it real quick. . . . I had even asked him to [help me remove it] after he told me I had to have it out because I didn’t want to do it myself.

And:

I had to sit down with the school board [again, probably District administrators, not the school board]. The entire time I was letting them know how much [The Major] has done for me and that I didn’t want any harm. They just didn’t really care. They do what makes them look “best.” I’ve tried [to correct them] any opportunity I’ve gotten.

The final allegation in my PIP, that I have failed to properly supervise cadets, follows from our long-standing tradition of permitting staff cadets to access the JROTC storage container in the maintenance yard behind the junior high school. As the high school and junior high school campuses are adjacent, reaching the maintenance yard does not require leaving school property. The cadets that we have permitted access are our staff cadets. They are our most senior cadets who have developed through years in the program, gained our trust and confidence, and are carrying out official staff section responsibilities for our JROTC battalion. This has been a long-standing practice since well before I joined the Ozark JROTC program 8 years ago. I share that not to deflect responsibility but to note that all three instructors who preceded the current team plus the current team of three instructors all believed this to be acceptable. If it is not, a simple correction is in order, rather than a formal reprimand in a permanent personnel file. In fact, my record will show that in EVERY instance the school district asked us to change one of our established practices, as long as it was within their authority to do so, we were immediately and completely compliant.

“If it is not acceptable, a simple correction is in order, rather than a formal reprimand in a permanent personnel file. In fact, . . . in EVERY instance the school district asked us to change one of our established practices, as long as it was within their authority to do so, we were immediately and completely compliant.”

On the morning of 22 October, one of our cadet company commanders asked to use my key ring to access the storage container to retrieve supplies for the “Battalion Olympics” we were hosting that day at Finley River Park. I permitted him. The gate to the chain link fence around the maintenance yard is typically left open all day long. However, since it had not yet been unlocked for the day and since my key ring includes the key to the gate, the cadet unlocked it himself.

Dr. Curtis Chesick, Asst Superintendent of Operations
Dr. Curtis Chesick, Assistant Superintendent of Operations, observed the student unlocking the gate and angrily confronted him. The student returned reporting that Dr. Chesick was very angry about his having keys to unlock a District facility. It is clear from subsequent events that Dr. Chesick then unloaded some of that anger on Dr. Brownfield. He directed Dr. Brownfield to investigate.

Dr. Brownfield thus emailed me as follows:

This morning, I was informed that a JROTC student went down to the maintenance storage facility and was unlocking the gates. When a staff member asked whose keys he had the student stated, “Majors”. Much like Dr. Gillespie requested that we not give students keys to the fitness room unsupervised, we cannot let students go to any district facility with staff keys unsupervised. Please let me know the context of the situation this morning,

I responded:

I permitted [Cadet’s Name], one of our company commanders, to access our metal shipping container in the maintenance yard in order to procure supplies to set up for this morning’s battalion Olympics. We have supplies stored at the junior high, the high school, and in the metal shipping container in the maintenance yard. The things he needed this morning were in the metal shipping container. We had pulled out most of them already so that they were staged in my classroom. There was something else he needed this morning – I don’t recall what – that they had overlooked. Neither Chief nor I were in a position to escort him down there. So I sent him alone.

Dr. Brownfield did not respond further. While his email to me clearly states “we cannot let students go to any district facility with staff keys unsupervised,” the message I perceived was simply that we cannot let cadets unlock District facilities on their own. That seemed a minor point, given that all that was being unlocked was a gate which was shortly to be opened by district employees anyway and a JROTC storage container. We have no keys to access anything else down there. Nevertheless, I immediately informed my colleagues and our staff cadets that they were no longer permitted to unlock the gate to the maintenance yard.

My narrower interpretation of Dr. Brownfield’s message was surely colored by the fact that Dr. Chesick DID NOT direct the student to immediately return to the school to be escorted to the storage container. He permitted him to proceed to access the storage container. And his message to the student was that he should not have keys to access District facilities, not that he required an escort. So while hindsight readily reveals a broader message in Dr. Brownfield’s email, it is not the message I sincerely interpreted at the time. Thus we continued to permit cadets to access our storage container unescorted, as long as the gate was already open.

Four weeks later, Dr. Chesick encountered a couple of our staff cadets at the JROTC storage container again, while the maintenance yard gate was already open. They were retrieving equipment for the Ozark Christmas Parade. Dr. Chesick again confronted them. He had evidently intended the message that JROTC cadets should not even be down there without instructor escort. And thus he surely felt disrespected, given that it would have appeared to him that we ignored his directive. Our cadets returned with a report that Dr. Chesick was extremely upset at their being at the maintenance yard without instructors present. As this was at the end of the school day, I informed the cadets I would explore this with Dr. Brownfield the following morning.

When I got to Dr. Brownfield’s office the next morning, I opened with “Dr. Chesick just confronted two of our staff cadets down at the JROTC storage container again. If we are doing something wrong, we need to know so that we can correct it.” It then became evident that Dr. Chesick had directed his frustration over the situation at Dr. Brownfield already. And given his reputation, I am certain that he wasn’t gentle and didn’t hold back. Dr. Brownfield explained to me that cadets could not be down there at all without instructors present. He said that the problem was that they were then out of our immediate supervision. He was clearly quite perturbed.

I was dumbfounded at this. I countered that such is the case constantly at school – i.e., that students are regularly invited to be outside of direct supervision for limited periods of time and for specific purposes. I pointed out that the storage container was on school property and that students were traveling there and back on official JROTC business for a limited period of time. He noted that they had also been allowed to drive down there. So I proposed that we pursue for our staff cadets the same driving waiver that A+ tutors, OTC students, etc. get. He then reverted back to just harping on this being an issue of inadequate supervision. So I asked how this differs from the numerous instances of the school’s accepting indirect supervision as sufficient and asked why this context should not warrant the same latitude. I specifically pointed out A+ tutors driving across town on their own to another school, student field trips to Silver Dollar City in which they are permitted to travel around on their own (in small groups) for several hours, and overnight trips where students are lodged in hotel rooms separate from their chaperones. Supervision does not always entail direct observation. The type and degree of supervision appropriate at any given moment is a function of the maturity of the individuals involved, the activity they are engaged in, other responsibilities of the teacher at the time, etc.

Dr. Brownfield simply replied that all those other examples I raised were permitted by school policy, but sending cadets down to the JROTC storage container alone was not. A subsequent review of school policy demonstrates that it is not the verbiage of the policy but instead professional judgment that dictates how to apply the policy. Despite our differences on this issue, I assured Dr. Brownfield of our future compliance. And upon return to my classroom I immediately emailed my colleagues to inform them of this restriction and to ensure their compliance as well.

“A subsequent review of school policy demonstrates that it is not the verbiage of the policy but instead professional judgment that dictates how to apply the policy. Despite our differences on this issue, I assured Dr. Brownfield of our future compliance. And upon return to my classroom I immediately emailed my colleagues to inform them of this restriction and to ensure their compliance as well.”

My Professional Improvement Plan attempts to suggest a track record of disregard for district policy and mistreatment of cadets. In each instance, the board policy that the PIP claims I violated was not violated. The PIP simply alleges the behavior was a violation even though the cited policy does not support that claim. The entirety of the PIP implies pretty strongly that the district was setting the stage for future adverse action. The atmosphere surrounding it also strongly suggested that it was motivated at the district level. It appears certain that the District directed the principal to serve me a professional improvement plan. Several aspects of the plan indicate this:

  • First, as noted below, it isn’t a Professional Improvement Plan. The author does his best to try to fill out some of the expected fields of a legitimate plan but has nothing meaningful to put in those fields. So he just supplies nonsense. For example, in the field for performance indicators of progress, the author repeatedly just fills in additional requirements or restrictions for me to follow.
  • Second, it takes a “shotgun” approach. A normal Professional Improvement Plan would be in response to a significant problem. Mine is not. It instead sought out whatever trivial issues it could come up with and combined them all together to suggest a problem.
  • Third, it deliberately misrepresents every element in it. This should not come as a surprise, given that, when there is no basis for censure but a reprimand is being required anyway, the details are going to be pretty distorted.
  • Finally, after reviewing the plan with me, Dr. Brownfield made sure to emphasize that he still thought I was “good for kids” and the District. Perhaps this was just his way of trying to end with a gentle touch, to build back up the teacher he had just beat down. But it felt more like an apology for everything he had just been forced to say. There was stark disparity between what he had just said and was now saying.
“In each instance, the board policy that the PIP claims I violated was not violated. . . . when there is no basis for censure but a reprimand is being required anyway, the details are going to be pretty distorted.”

After reviewing the PIP with me, Dr. Brownfield informed me I was entitled to write a response to it. I initially didn’t presume there was any benefit to doing so. The PIP was just the District’s way of insulting me, of “putting me back in my place” for having dared to protest the District’s compelling us to ignore Army regulation. But as I reflected on the fact that the PIP really wasn’t an improvement plan at all – given that it contained no plan of action, no review mechanisms, no deadlines, etc. – I began to suspect a more sinister agenda. I grew concerned that the main purpose of this PIP was to begin building a case for firing me.

Several indicators signaled that this was likely:

  1. The absolute dishonesty and lack of good-faith in the PIP suggested a malicious agenda.
  2. It wasn’t in any way a genuine improvement plan. It lacked all of the growth elements an improvement plan would be expected to contain. It was instead just a written reprimand.
  3. The content and context of the PIP very much felt like it had been motivated at the District level.
  4. This wasn’t the first time I had run afoul of the District office.
“But as I reflected on the fact that the PIP really wasn’t an improvement plan at all . . . I began to suspect a more sinister agenda. I grew concerned that the main purpose of this PIP was to begin building a case for firing me.”

Several indicators signaled that this was likely:

  1. The absolute dishonesty and lack of good-faith in the PIP suggested a malicious agenda.
  2. It wasn’t in any way a genuine improvement plan. It lacked all of the growth elements an improvement plan would be expected to contain. It was instead just a written reprimand.
  3. The content and context of the PIP very much felt like it had been motivated at the District level.
  4. This wasn’t the first time I had run afoul of the District office.

Response to “Professional Improvement Plan,” dated November 19, 2021

Professional Improvement Plan
"The Major"
Presented November 19, 2021

Reasons for Professional Improvement Plan:

  1. The Major implemented a change in JROTC dress policy and procedure without proper notification to students and administration.
  2. The Major directed and assisted a student in removal of a body piercing.
  3. The Major inappropriately addressed two students who reported concerns of his actions.
  4. The Major has provided students access to district facilities while not properly supervising them.

The “Professional Improvement Plan” presented to me on November 19, 2021 is not truly a professional improvement plan.  It mimics the format of a professional improvement plan but contains no elements of an actual plan, such as growth activities, goals, milestones, etc.  The closest it comes to having any of the expected features of a genuine plan is the imposition of additional restrictions, under the guise of “performance indicators.”  (But additional restrictions wouldn’t be an employee’s improvement plan; that would be the school’s plan for containing a wayward employee.)  In this instance, “Professional Improvement Plan” is just a euphemism for a formal censure.

“It mimics the format of a professional improvement plan but contains no elements of an actual plan, such as growth activities, goals, milestones, etc. . . . In this instance, ‘Professional Improvement Plan’ is just a euphemism for a formal censure.”

A formal censure is not warranted when officials believe someone has acted in good faith.  The plausible function of a formal censure is to build a case for future adverse action.  This implies that someone evidently believes my actions were malicious, indifferent, self-serving, or otherwise blameworthy.  That contradicts the evidence and induces my response.

Focus of the Professional Improvement Plan Number 1:

1. The Major implemented a change in JROTC dress policy and procedure without proper notification to students and administration.
a. Examples
i.  Following an October 27th meeting with the JROTC instructors, The Major decided that the exception to allow students who had piercings, other than those located near the bottom of the ear, to cover them either with a band aid or a mask was no longer acceptable. Major stated that he informed a student promptly of this and stated that she either had to remove it or forgo uniform wear necessitating her dropping JROTC. This violates Policy GBB.

SUBSEQUENT COMMENTARY THAT WAS NOT PART OF PIP RESPONSE:
This allegation illustrates that the District has still not accepted that it lacks authority over Army uniform regulations for JROTC, despite my emphatically expressing this point to Dr. Brownfield when he directed us to permit facial piercings in uniform this year. In contracting with the Army for a JROTC program, each district commits to a number of specific requirements for hosting an Army JROTC program, including “To conform to the regulations of the Secretary of the Army relating to the conduct of the Junior ROTC” (DA Form 3126).  We are all beholden to Army regulation for JROTC uniform wear.  JROTC instructors seek to enforce it exactly as required by Army regulation.  The District’s unwillingness to acknowledge the limits of its authority invites it to see my report to the Army as insubordinate.  The District seeks to affirm its authority against my challenge to it.  If my challenge was within the scope of the District’s legitimate authority, then the District would be right to suppress my dissent.  But when the District exceeds its authority, my resistance is obligatory, both professionally and morally.  Any effort to punish me for it then constitutes retaliation.  That is the context for the entirety of this PIP.

“But when the District exceeds its authority, my resistance is obligatory, both professionally and morally.  Any effort to punish me for it then constitutes retaliation.  That is the context for the entirety of this PIP.”

When Ozark School District petitioned the United States Army for a JROTC program at Ozark, it entered into an official agreement with the Army that the program would be run consistent with the regulations governing the Army Junior Reserve Office Corps Program.  Uniform wear is governed by U.S. Army Cadet Command Regulation 670-1 and Army Regulation 670-1.  CCR 670-1 restricts the wear of jewelry in uniform to “a wristwatch, a wrist identification bracelet, and two rings.”  AR 670-1 was updated this year to permit the wear of conservative earrings in uniform as well.

Over the years we have periodically had cadets get ear piercings which they then protested they were unable to remove for uniform wear due to the newness of the piercing.  Our traditional compromise for new piercings only has been to permit the wearer to conceal it beneath a small Band-Aid.  This has always been just small stud-style earrings.  Last year, some cadets evidently got nose rings and wore them throughout the year, even when in uniform.  Because we were in COVID masks all last year, this did not catch our attention.  This year, one young lady had a nose ring which school COVID policy no longer obligated her to conceal with a face mask.  She attempted to cover it with a piece of a Band-Aid.  We directed her to remove it.  She responded that it wasn’t removable; it wasn’t made to be removed.  Because her ring is an actual ring, not just a stud, and because of its location at the end of her nose, she was never able to keep it covered.  The Band-Aid wouldn’t stay in place and even before it fell off completely, left the ring exposed to view.  We repeatedly reminded her that it had to be removed or kept concealed.

When we took JROTC pictures on 27 October, we instructors discussed the new changes the Army had instituted for uniform wear this year.  These changes included additional latitude with earrings, fingernail length, nail polish, and hair style.  As we discussed how to publicize these across the JROTC battalion, we also noted that one of our cadets was continuing to flout regulation with her nose ring, hoping that her Band-Aid concealment would be satisfactory.  We concluded that it wasn’t and I offered to inform her of this.

The wearing of a Band-Aid over a mature piercing was never an “exception” permitted by our JROTC program.  It was merely a violation that escaped our deliberate attention for a time because of its general resemblance to the compromise we have permitted for cadets with fresh piercings and because COVID masks had concealed it for a time.

The principal feature of Policy GBB is an admonishment to district employees that even though they may be invited to advise on district policy, authority for district policy lies with the school board and designated administrators.  This incident has nothing to do with that board policy.

JROTC uniform policy is a matter of Army regulation, not school district policy and not Ozark JROTC internal policy.  As the Senior Army Instructor for our JROTC program, I am charged with ensuring our compliance with Army policy.

“JROTC uniform policy is a matter of Army regulation, not school district policy and not Ozark JROTC internal policy.  As the Senior Army Instructor for our JROTC program, I am charged with ensuring our compliance with Army policy.”

Performance indicators concerning and [sic] implemented a change in JROTC dress policy without proper notification to students and administration.
1. The Major must present any JROTC instructional program policy or procedure which may require students to meet a different standard than stated in the student handbook or board policy, such as the personal appearance code for uniform wear for administration approval.
2. The Major must provide students adequate time to adjust to any change in JROTC policy or procedure and must provide exceptions when appropriate.

I have already (prior to this stipulation being levied) provided to Dr. Brownfield a copy of the two aforementioned regulations.  In petitioning the Army for a JROTC program at Ozark High School, the school has committed itself to accepting these regulations.

It has been a longstanding practice of our JROTC program to provide students adequate time to adhere to policy and to make exceptions where appropriate.  We will continue to do so.

SUBSEQUENT COMMENTARY THAT WAS NOT PART OF PIP RESPONSE:
This suggestion, that I inappropriately changed policy, is absurd on numerous levels:

  • First, as already noted, JROTC uniform policy is set by the Army.
  • Second, as also already noted, we were maintaining precisely the same policy we had always maintained.
  • Third, Policy GBB refers specifically to the setting of District policy.
  • Fourth, every teacher, coach, program sponsor, etc. should have the authority to determine policy for their own jurisdiction.

Focus of the Professional Improvement Plan Number 2:
2.  The Major directed and assisted a student in the removal of a body piercing.
a.   Examples
i.    Following the October 27th meeting where the decision was made to no longer allow the exception of nose piercings to be covered by a band aid or mask, in conversation with a student The Major stated that the nose ring could be removed with wire cutters and offered to bring in a pair of wire cutters. On November 9th, The Major brought in the wire cutters and when the student was unable to remove the piercing on her own, he assisted her by squeezing the handle of the wire cutters. This action violates Board Policy GBCB numbers l, 2, 9, and 13; and Board Policy JFCA.

SUBSEQUENT COMMENTARY THAT WAS NOT PART OF PIP RESPONSE:
This in an excellent example of how this Professional Improvement Plan deliberately distorts facts.  Both the previous allegation and this one purport that we had authorized an exception wherein students with facial jewelry could retain them, as long as they covered them with a Band-Aid or mask.  This is simply false.  We had two students with nose piercings, one of whom had been concealing hers under a mask and escaped our notice until this incident.  The other had been told from the beginning of the school year that it was unacceptable.  But given her insistence that her nose ring could be removed, we afforded her the opportunity seek an alternative solution.  She tried repeatedly but ultimately could not.  So we reiterated the requirement that it be removed in uniform.

This allegation next purports that I directed her to remove the nose ring.  This is also untrue.  I informed her that she had a choice to make.  She could retain the nose ring and drop JROTC or she could remove the nose ring and remain in JROTC.  She simply could not do both.  She then expressed her desire to remove the nose ring and requested my assistance.

The allegation that my conduct [spelling corrected] violated Board Policy GBCB numbers 1 and 9 is immaterial.  If I violated any others, then it is alleged I automatically also violated numbers 1 and 9, since rule 1 obligates me to know the rules and rule 9 obligates me to follow them.  (As a side note, those rules are superfluous.  Rules don’t need another rule saying you must learn them or one saying you must obey them.  Such is already inherent in the concept of rules.  In fact, adding them is counterproductive as it implies the rules didn’t carry sufficient authority until endorsed by new rules obligating respect for them.  And if they didn’t carry sufficient authority on their own, then one has to wonder whether the new rules obligating awareness and compliance actually carry any authority either.)

Rule number 2 directs employees to “Maintain courteous and professional relationships with students.”  Whether this policy was violated hinges on whether my assisting a student in removing her nose ring was conducive to a “courteous and professional relationship.”

If the context provided in the abbreviated case summary above is insufficient to recognize that there was no breach of relationship with the students, I need to provide more.  Insufficient context can surely promote misunderstanding.  When I informed the cadet on 25 October [CORRECTION: This was actually 27 October.] that her efforts to conceal her nose ring were insufficient and that it needed to come out, she reiterated that it couldn’t come out.  I informed her that if it couldn’t come out, then she was going to have to quit wearing the uniform and that would necessitate her dropping JROTC.  A uniform violation on this level isn’t something to just deduct points over and then tolerate.  It has to be fixed.  She then told me that she had tried to cut it out before but had been unsuccessful.  I told her a pair of wire cutters would easily remove it.  When she said she didn’t have a pair, I told her that I did and that I would bring it in if she was serious.  She said that she was serious, that she was ready to take the nose ring out.  She asked me a day or two later for the wire cutters.  I told her I hadn’t brought them in yet.  She asked me to do so.  She asked me every day or two about this again.  In fact, I emailed myself a note home from school twice (29 Oct, 8 Nov) to remember to bring them in to fulfill her request.  Her final request was the day before her assigned uniform wear.  She wanted to comply with Army regulation.  She requested my assistance doing so.  I assured I would have them for her the next morning.

SUBSEQUENT COMMENTARY THAT WAS NOT PART OF PIP RESPONSE:
The narrative below reflects that I showed considerable reluctance to assisting this young lady in removing her nose piercing.  That might give the impression that there is something wrong with doing so.  There is not, fundamentally, anything wrong with assisting a cadet this way when she requests the assistance.  I was simply exercising an abundance of caution.  The ultimate issue here isn’t really whether I participated in the removal of a nose ring anyway.  It is, first, whether JROTC is right to require compliance with the uniform standards established by the Army.  It is, second, whether assisting a cadet, at her request, with removing a nose ring is consistent with “maintain[ing] courteous and professional relationships.”  Courtesy and professionalism in this case dictated assisting a student who was so insistently petitioning me for assistance with a task she felt unprepared to perform on her own.  In fact, it would have been a violation of courtesy and professionalism to deny her the assistance she required in order to remain part of a program which she so highly valued and was eager to remain eligible for.

On 9 November, she came into my classroom in the morning to see if I had the promised wire cutters.  I told her they were on my desk.  She asked me to cut her nose ring for her.  I told her that I would not.  She tried cutting it herself.  I told her to go to the bathroom to use the mirror while she cut it.  She insisted she would be fine and proceeded to try.  When she struggled, she asked me again to cut it for her.  I told her to go find a friend and have them do it.  She asked why I wouldn’t just cut it for her.  I assured her that it was bad practice for me to cut cadets’ hair, jewelry, etc. but that I was happy to provide for them the means for them to do it themselves.  She pressed further for explanation and I told her that I didn’t want to be the recipient of any angry phone calls from parents about cutting hair, nose rings, etc.  She scoffed at the idea and insisted her mom wouldn’t call the school angry about her nose ring as they were both okay with its coming out.  She then asked me a third time to assist her.  I declined a third time.  She continued to struggle with the wire cutters.  I couldn’t understand her difficulty.  She explained that she was having trouble because she was scared (presumably of clipping her nose, since she couldn’t see the end of the cutters.)  I told her to squeeze hard with two hands and it would cut.  She still struggled.  When I noticed that it was time for us to go to formation and that we were both going to be late if we delayed any longer, I reached up to assist her, while she was still holding the wire cutters.  Given that the student requested numerous times that I bring in the wire cutters and three times that I assist her with cutting it, my finally doing so cannot be found to have violated the requirement for a “courteous and professional relationship.”  The only element of the situation that even hints otherwise is that after the fact the student misrepresented the story to a couple of friends in a quest for attention.  These three young ladies thrive on drama.  Two of them encouraged her to feel violated by this incident and render a dishonest report about it all.

The allegation that I violated rule number 13 (“School employees shall not direct a student to remove . . .”) and Board Policy JFCA (“Student Dress Code”) is absurd.  Army uniform policy obligates the removal of nose rings.  I cannot be found in violation of school district policy for enforcing an Army regulation that I am charged – by both the Army and the school – with enforcing.

“I cannot be found in violation of school district policy for enforcing an Army regulation that I am charged – by both the Army and the school – with enforcing.”

Performance indicators concerning directing and assisting a student in removal of a body piercing:
l.    The Major will not assist a student in removing a body piercing.
2.  The Major will not direct a student to remove a body piercing other than ones that may safely be removed in accordance with the approved personal appearance code for JROTC uniform wear approved by administration.

All JROTC instructors are obligated to enforce Cadet Command regulations.  We will continue to look to accommodate cadets as far as practical in doing so.  The stipulation above implies that I was not accommodating of a cadet’s piercing recovery timeline when I should have been.  This is false.  This piercing is an old piercing.  The cadet never suggested otherwise.  The cadet manifested an eagerness to remove it.

Focus of the Professional Improvement Plan Number 3:
3.  The Major inappropriately addressed two students who reported concerns with staff.
a.   Examples
i. On November 9th, The Major addressed a student who reported that he assisted with removal of a nose piercing by requesting the student, “explain to me how her effort to comply with JROTC uniform policy resulted in her mom calling the school to accuse me of removing her daughter’s nose ring.” This violates Board Policies GBCB number 2 and GBH number 5.
ii. On November 9th, The Major addressed a second student who reported that he assisted with removal of a nose piercing by requesting the student “explain to me her role in this report.” This violates Board Policies GBCB number 2 and GBH number 5.

SUBSEQUENT COMMENTARY THAT WAS NOT PART OF PIP RESPONSE:
After Dr. Brownfield questioned me about the nose ring removal, when I next saw the young lady in question, I asked her simply to explain to me how her effort to comply with JROTC uniform policy resulted in her mom calling the school to accuse me of removing her nose ring.”  She responded that her mom did not call the school, the report came from her herself.  She explained that after formation she showed another friend the removal and the friend pressured her into filing this report.  While she named the friend, she didn’t elaborate further on their conversation or the reason behind her report.  That was the entire extent of that conversation.  It lasted no more than a minute.

Later in the day, I asked the friend to explain to me her role in the report that was made to the principal.  She insisted that she hadn’t been the force behind it; a third friend had.  She then added that all she said was “I wouldn’t remove my nose ring.  It cost me $80.”  Until that point, it had escaped my attention that she also had a nose ring, which was concealed under a COVID mask.  Given her declaration now that she was unwilling to comply with uniform regulation, I instructed her that she would need to turn in her JROTC uniform as she would no longer be eligible for uniform wear and would have to drop JROTC at the end of the semester.  She immediately stormed out of the room to see the principal before there was opportunity to discuss this further.  That was the entire extent of that conversation.  It also lasted no more than a minute and was conducted in the presence of a colleague.

I wrestle with whether my inquiry to these two cadets was inappropriate.  It has been labeled as such without any demonstration of how or why it was.  Still, I can see how an outsider, ignorant of the personalities and circumstances, might see it as vindictive.  And I recognize that perception is important, even when it is flawed perception.  And yet, my inquiry was simply a sincere search for understanding of a surreal situation that only those involved could provide insight into.  Interpreting it as vindictive is inconsistent with both the facts of the inquiry and the personalities involved.

Board Policy GBCB number 2 requires that school employees “maintain courteous and professional relationships with students.”  I don’t presume that this was intended to or actually does preclude their seeking understanding from students.

Board Policy GBH number 5 is another “catch-all” like GBCB numbers 2 and 9 that prohibits “engaging in any conduct that violates Board policies, regulations or procedures.”  Again, it is superfluous.  Whether it was violated is really just a matter of whether GBCB number 2 was violated.  If it was, then GBH #5 is unnecessary.  If it wasn’t, then GBH #5 is irrelevant to this incident.  There is no indication that my actions were either discourteous or unprofessional.

SUBSEQUENT COMMENTARY THAT WAS NOT PART OF PIP RESPONSE:
There are no grounds for suggesting that my separate inquiries with these two girls were discourteous or unprofessional.  Naturally, the second young lady who found herself at odds with the program now over her stated refusal to remove her nose ring was upset.  But that a student was upset over being compelled to follow longstanding rules is no evidence of misconduct.  And the first young lady felt no rift between us either, as evidenced by her still visiting my classroom regularly and then asking to return to the Raider team which I coach (and which she had previously quit.)  No cadet who felt I had violated them would follow it up by coming to me for permission to spend more time around me.

That policy GBH was even invoked is surely a deliberate insult or worse: a disgusting insinuation.  It is certainly compelling evidence of the District’s contempt for reality in this affair.  This policy prohibits staff members from pursuing sexual relationships with students.  It is awfully disturbing that the school district even consulted this policy for something they might apply.  It is then in extremely poor taste that they cited something from this policy, even when the reference is utterly meaningless.

That policy GBH was even invoked is surely a deliberate insult or worse: a disgusting insinuation. . . . This policy prohibits staff members from pursuing sexual relationships with students. . . . It is then in extremely poor taste that they cited something from this policy, even when the reference is utterly meaningless.”

Performance indicators concerning inappropriately addressing students who report concerns with staff.
1. The Major must not inappropriately address students who report concerns about staff actions including his own. Addressing students who make reports about staff actions may be considered retaliation for doing so.

Agreed.  But whether this inquiry was inappropriate has yet to be established.  It has simply been labeled inappropriate without any significant attempt to demonstrate that.

Focus of the Professional Improvement Plan Number 4 :
4.  The Major has provided students access to district facilities while not properly supervising them.
a.   Examples
i. On September 9th, 2021, The Major allowed students access to the fitness room with his keys and they were working out unsupervised for a period of time. On September 10th, 2021, Dr. Gillespie requested that The Major not allow students to access the fitness room with his keys and work out while unsupervised. This violates Board Policy GBCB numbers 1 and 8.
ii. On October 22, 2021, The Major provided a student with his keys and allowed him access to maintenance yard and JROTC shipping containers while unsupervised. This violates Board Policy GBCB numbers 1 and 8. On October 22nd I sent an email to The Major stating that we are not allowed to let students go to district facilities with staff keys unsupervised.
iii. On November 18th, The Major permitted two students to travel in their vehicle leaving the high school campus, during class time, to the maintenance yard with his keys to access the JROTC storage container.  This violates Board Policy GBCB numbers 1 and 8.

This final allegation – that I violated Board Policy GBCB number 8’s requirement to “Properly supervise all students” – hinges on two important conceptual questions.  First, what degree of latitude does policy intend for professional judgment?  Second, what degree of supervision is appropriate in any given instance (or what degree of oversight constitutes supervision)?

This former question lay at the heart of my master’s thesis on professional ethics.  Organizational policies can be conceptualized as guiding principles or inviolable rules (or somewhere in between).  The former approach invites practitioners to employ judgment in balancing competing principles that are all relevant to a given case.  The latter approach seeks to obviate judgment by dictating specifically what a practitioner must do, regardless of the particulars of that case.  Organizations are optimally effective when policy is articulated as guiding principles, provided that its members are sufficiently mature and there is sufficient trust between supervisors and employees.  Organizations are minimally effective when they attempt to proscribe judgment by establishing in advance exactly what one must or must not do in cases that have yet to arise.  Rules simply cannot be written so carefully and with such foresight as to anticipate and accommodate the exigencies of each case.  In most organizations, policy will seek to strike a balance between the two extremes, reflecting the governing body’s sense of how much self-governance its members are capable of handling.

This is surely the case with Ozark School Board policy.  Some of it surely welcomes professional judgment and some of it attempts to delimit behavior.  Board Policy GBCB number 8’s stipulation that employees “properly supervise all students” would appear to be a pretty strict standard, not offering much latitude for interpretation.  But it also includes an exception, built into the policy: “Employees must not leave students unsupervised except as necessary to handle an emergency situation.”  While this is surely an appropriate exception, no policy can anticipate all of the appropriate exceptions that might arise.  So good judgment is still appropriate.  (To bear this out, consider what one should do if the exception weren’t built into GBCB #8 and an emergency arose.  One would expect a responsible teacher to accept some risk with immediate supervision while attending to the more pressing emergency.)  To assume that there is never a warranted case for an exception to a rule is to vest extremely high confidence in rules and extremely low confidence in human judgment.

The school district already makes allowances to this policy based on context.  For example, when a teacher takes students on an overnight trip, there is no expectation that the teacher will be able to monitor students behind hotel room doors.  Likewise with other class excursions, such as to an amusement park, students may be organized into small groups and sent out on their own with no direct observation from their teacher.  So the policy admits of either exception or interpretation.  Rather than considering these to be exceptions to the supervision rule, these are probably better seen as cases where the type and degree of supervision appropriate varies.  The degree of supervision appropriate at any given moment is a function of the maturity of the individuals involved, the activity they are engaged in, other supervisory responsibilities of the teacher at the time, etc.

The allegations recorded above seem to be designed to suggest a pattern of indifference to the requirement to provide adequate supervision.  They are better understood as reflecting a difference in either how we understand policy or what degree of supervision is appropriate in a particular instance.  To illustrate that the issue is one of disagreement as to how to apply the policy rather than indifference to the policy, I offer excerpts from the email interaction that I had with the Assistant Principal, Dr. Gillespie, on 10 September when he asked me to discontinue permitting cadets to use the cardio room without my being present.

“Thanks for the note.  I am certainly guilty of letting the kids use my keys to access the cardio room.  I have a bunch of them who are nursing running injuries and absolutely must roll their muscles before each workout.  I can’t supervise them and the rest of the team at the same time, so I have sent them to roll out unsupervised.  As a solution, I have asked the Army for foam rollers but don’t know yet whether my request was approved.  I’ll stop sending them to roll out until we have a solution I can better supervise.  Unfortunately, it also probably means not allowing these kids to train anymore until that solution materializes.”
[After his subsequent invitation that I borrow foam rollers from the weight room . . . ]
“Thanks for your understanding.  We will certainly comply.  I’ll emphasize this with the team at Monday’s practice.  Also, I just sent a query to my brigade, after getting your email today, asking for the status of my foam roller order.  We seem to be pretty short on foam rollers in the weight room and cardio room.  I’ll bring in one from home and supplement it with tennis balls, etc. until we can get something better.”

The challenge in this first instance is that our Raider team does a lot of running.  Kids who begin to develop running injuries absolutely must roll out their muscles before practice in order to manage their injury and avoid further injury.  So I was stuck with the option of either 1) telling these ambitious kids they can no longer practice with the team, 2) disallowing the rest of the team to practice (and leaving them hanging around the school unsupervised) while I oversee the 6-8 injured kids rolling out their muscles, or 3) instructing these kids to roll out their muscles on their own while I started practice with the other 90% of the team.  Of these, option 3 really did seem the best choice.  But when Dr. Gillespie asked me to discontinue that, I communicated my full intent to follow his direction.

In the second instance above, one of our cadet staff needed to retrieve some equipment before school from the JROTC storage container in the maintenance yard in order to set up for the “Battalion Olympics” we were hosting at Finley River Park that day.  We attempt to put our cadets as fully in charge of this program as possible.  That is fundamental to the growth experience they derive from our program.  I permitted one of our cadet company commanders to take my keys to retrieve this equipment.  Dr. Chesick found him unlocking the gate to the maintenance yard and objected.  Both the student’s report of his interaction with Dr. Chesick and Dr. Brownfield’s subsequent communication to me indicated that the issue here was that I had permitted a student to unlock a district property without supervision.  That seemed a minor point, given that all that was being unlocked was a gate which was shortly to be opened by district employees anyway and a JROTC storage container.  We had no keys to access anything else down there.  Nevertheless, I then communicated to my colleagues that we wouldn’t let cadets unlock that gate anymore.

On 17 November, I again provided keys to a couple of cadet staff members so that they could retrieve banners we needed for the Ozark Christmas parade.  Dr. Chesick again encountered them and objected.  This was surely every bit as frustrating to us as it was to district officials.  From well before my, and my colleagues’, arrival at Ozark, JROTC instructors have had an established practice of permitting cadet staff officers to travel to our storage container in the maintenance yard behind the junior high school.  These are our most senior, most developed, and most trusted cadets.  They are conducting official JROTC business.  They don’t leave school property to reach this storage container.  We have a very active program and it seemed to make sense to extend this much trust to these cadets in order that we can all accomplish more.  Furthermore, the previous incident resulted in my being directed to not let cadets unlock the maintenance facility gate, rather than to not let them go there unaccompanied.  I offer this not to argue that cadets must continue to be accorded this latitude but simply to point out that a long-established practice, endorsed by my three predecessors and my colleagues today, is surely not a case of disregard for authority or incompetence in judgment.  It is instead a case of our applying policy at our level differently than some above us intend for us to apply it.  We are responsive to authority and willing to adapt, even when we disagree.  In fact, after airing my frustrations to Dr. Brownfield the following morning and coming to understand his objection, I immediately emailed my colleagues to explain Dr. Brownfield’s directive and to solicit their compliance as well.

“A long-established practice, endorsed by my three predecessors and my colleagues today, is surely not a case of disregard for authority or incompetence in judgment.”

SUBSEQUENT COMMENTARY THAT WAS NOT PART OF PIP RESPONSE:
After Dr. Chesick intercepted our staff cadets carrying out routine staff business at the maintenance yard on 17 November, I went to see Dr. Brownfield the first thing the following morning.  I explained to him that Dr. Chesick had again intercepted us and told him that if we were doing something wrong, we needed to know what it was so that we could correct our behavior.  It is dishonest to attempt to characterize our conduct as indifferent or insubordinate when I sought out Dr. Brownfield for explanation specifically so that we could be fully compliant with the district.  Dr. Brownfield was visibly irritated during that exchange.  It would appear that he had been the recipient of an angry phone call from Dr. Chesick and that he was passing the sentiment on to me without considering whether it was warranted.

“It is dishonest to attempt to characterize our conduct as indifferent or insubordinate when I sought out Dr. Brownfield for explanation specifically so that we could be fully compliant with the district.”

Performance indicators concerning inappropriately addressing students who report concerns with staff.
l. The Major must properly supervise students at all times. Students must not be allowed to leave the High School campus with his or any other staff members keys at any time. In situations where students need to access storage or fitness spaces both inside and outside of the high school, the Major must be able to properly supervise them when doing so.

Understood and accepted.

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