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The Importance of Information

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Legal
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June 1, 2017

As you think about your to-do list for the beginning of next school year, please ensure your employees—all of them, whether administrators, teachers or support staff—are furnished with any and all employment-related materials when they report for duty. This should include policies, handbooks, manuals and the like. It may sound obvious, but sometimes the most basic things can get overlooked as more pressing matters are being dealt with each August. It’s easy to remember this as it applies to your students and parents, but with respect to employees, it might be pushed back as an “I’ll get to it later” task.

Why is this important? From a practical standpoint, you want everybody on the same page as to your expectations for the school environment. Things run much more smoothly when procedures, rights and responsibilities are clearly set forth to all employees up front. From a legal standpoint, in the event anything goes wrong, or in the event of a need to discipline or terminate someone’s employment, it is critical that the district be protected. A key element of that is the ability to show that the employee knew the proper protocols. 

To that end, be sure to always convey these materials in writing. Always. We’re fortunate that money and time don’t have to be spent to print or copy things; we can simply e-mail, set up internal areas on the school website for each class of employee to access everything or we can use Slack or other systems for communication. There’s no excuse for a lack of written documentation.

Equally-important to always communicating in writing is an employee's written acknowledgment that he/she received it, understands it and agrees to abide by it. Otherwise, a claim could be made that the information was never received, and the district could find itself in a “he said, she said” predicament. Granted, in some situations, such as with an admonishment, an employee might refuse to sign or to agree. Those situations are generally dealt with by having the administrator and a witness document for the record that the information was given but that the employee refused to sign or to agree. The rest of the time, it’s generally not a problem getting the acknowledgment you need, as obtaining the requisite sign-off can also easily be done electronically via any number of methods. 

About the Author

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Terri Thomas

Director of Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC.  Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS) from 1999 to 2015 and represents many school districts throughout all parts of the state.

It’s no accident that Terri wound up practicing school law.  She grew up in the school business. Terri’s father, the late Howard Thomas, was a school superintendent for 25 years in several Oklahoma school districts, including Pauls Valley—Terri’s hometown—and Ardmore. After graduating from Pauls Valley High School, Terri received her bachelor’s degree in Finance from Southern Methodist University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

She and her husband, Norman Thompson, and their 8-year old daughter, Mary, reside in Oklahoma City.