Should a school principal be allowed to supervise an immediate family member?
And should "immediate family member" include in-laws?
Those were the questions asked this week by members of one Rochester elementary school community — and, in turn, answered by Board of Education members, who opted to uphold the school district's longstanding policy that says one "in-law" should not supervise another.
It's three weeks before the first day of school, and is without a principal. The vacancy happened earlier this summer, when Principal Debi Fragomeni was named Pre-K through 7th Grade Curriculum Director for the district.
Fragomeni's replacement was : from a pool of 200 candidates, Kelly Dessy was picked by school leaders, including Fragomeni, as the top choice for the job.
But that night, Elizabeth Davis, executive director of human resources for the district, revealed that there was a problem with the hire: Dessy, it was learned, had a "familial relationship" with a teacher in the school building.
According to the school district's policy, "At no time may any employee directly supervise or evaluate a member of his/her immediate family."
The policy defines "immediate family" as "grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, grandchild, son, daughter, or in-laws."
'A difficult situation that has no blame'
Dessy is a learning consultant at Hugger and well-known to the school community.
On Monday night, teacher Gail Davidson addressed the board of education and pleaded with them to amend or make exception to the policy.
"I'm here today because I know we have a difficult situation in front of us," said Davidson. "I know that difficult situation has no blame."
Dessy was not aware of the policy when she interviewed for the position, Davidson said.
"No one was hiding anything," she said.
"The first fact is that Kelly Dessy went through a lengthy interview process and she was determined to be the best person for the position at Hugger.
"If nothing has changed in her credentials or evaluations, her character, or her leadership abilities, then she is still the best person for Hugger's principal."
Davidson, who said she was representing 28 staff members at Hugger, asked the board to change the policy and remove "in-laws" from the definition. In 12 of 16 surrounding school districts, Davidson said, in-laws can supervise one another.
'Best practice' policy
Since the July 30 meeting, board of education members received 46 emails about the principal situation at Hugger.
Board President Jennifer Berwick thanked Davidson and others for their opinions but said the district policy would be upheld.
"[The decision] has been made in compliance with board policy 3120 which states that an employee may not evaluate or supervise a family member," Berwick said. "This policy, which was originally adopted in 1970 and revised as recently as 2007, represents best practice in both public and private sector and is in place for the protection of the employee and supervisor.
"The board appreciates the administration's actions in compliance with the policy and does not believe there is sufficient justification for changing it or making an exception."
Superintendent Fred Clarke said the administration is working on a plan to fill the position by the start of the school year, Berwick said.
"Hugger staff and parents will be notified as soon as the plans are finalized," she said.
After the meeting, Davidson called the decision a "travesty." With only three weeks until school starts, she said she worried about getting someone new acclimated to the building.
"The children need a familiar face," she said.