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Monday  •  April 27, 2020

Transparency Needed in Selection of New HCPSS Ethics Panel

By Steven Keller

This past week, it was reported that the HCPSS Ethics Panel had abruptly and unexpectedly been disbanded and that motions have been set in place to assemble a fresh Ethics Panel.


The reason for this unusual Ethics Panel disbanding has not yet been confirmed. One scenario described is that a confidential deliberation (or parts thereof) about ongoing ethics cases had been leaked. Another scenario described is that the leak was merely general advisory opinions about redistricting that had been initiated by the panel to be sent to the Board. These advisory opinions had been sent between members and debated for some number of days.


They were then leaked within hours of being sent to the central office. Since it was unclear which Panel member was the source of the leak and since no Panel member stepped forward to claim responsibility, the decision was made to completely disband the Panel and start fresh.


According to HCPSS Policy 2070 (Implementation Procedures – Ethics)the selection of the new Ethics panel begins with the Board of Education Chair (Mavis Ellis) appointing two Board members to serve as the screening committee for applicants, along with legal counsel and a Human Resources staff member. The two Board members selected by the Chair to serve on this committee then make recommendations to the full Board for candidate appointments to the new HCPSS Ethics Panel.



It is unknown at this time whether the suspected leak was genuine and conducted with no intent on disbanding the Panel or whether the leak was made (or the claim was fabricated) as an excuse to have the existing committee disbanded and to enable select members of the current Board of Education to hand-pick their own desired candidates for the new Ethics Panel. Each of these scenarios should be treated as plausible until more information becomes available.

Regardless of motive, it seems that the HCPSS BOE urgently needs a visit from a reputable plumber leaks are frequent and trust is low.


Two things are clear:


1) The current BOE needs to provide full transparency into the selection of this Panel and make sure that the public has confidence that no personal or ideological biases have influenced either Chair Ellis in her selection of the Board members that serve on the Ethics Panel selection committee or the decisions made by the selection committee Board members themselves.


2) The reasons for the disbanding of the past HCPSS Ethics Panel should be investigated to ensure that whatever leaks occurred never occur again


UPDATE (5/10/20): Important insight has been discovered in a recent Twitter message by one of the members of the recently-disbanded Ethics Panel (attached to this post). This former Panel member confirms that either a fellow Panel member or a Board of Education (BOE) member leaked to a local blogger an advisory opinion that the Panel had sent to the BOE. The member also confirms that the very decision to disband the Ethics Panel was leaked by a Board member prior to the Panel even knowing themselves that they were going to be disbanded.

The following HCPSS Ethics Panel advisory opinion obtained from MPIA 2020-229 was likely the one leaked back in November 2019. Note that this was marked “CONFIDENTIAL / HAND DELIVERED”, meaning it was printed and taken offline for delivery. This is an important detail to consider regarding this leak. It was apparently leaked within hours of being sent to the Central Office.



These revelations elevate the need for transparency into both the reasons for the disbanding of the panel & selection of the new panel as well as the need for accountability for the BOE member who leaked this information. Local press & bloggers oftentimes protect sources who share information, but in a case like this where an elected official may be leaking confidential information (or soon-to-be-public info significantly early) without the best interest of the public in mind (i.e. not a benevolent whistleblower leak), it is certainly best interest of the HCPSS community and the general public to share the details of such a leak and which Board member was responsible for it.


Getting to the bottom of this leak is more important than ever this year, with such a large number of leaks from the BOE having occurred recently that have significantly impacted fellow BOE members, private citizens and the processes undertaken by the HCPSS BOE.

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