Ombuds Office Charter
1.1. The Iowa City Community School District (“District”) established the Ombuds position and the Ombuds Office (“Office”) in 2020.
1.2. The Office is a critical component of the District’s efforts to raise awareness of concerns; promote a civil, equitable, and inclusive organization; and improve organizational culture.
1.3. The Ombuds Office serves as an informal conflict and concern resolution resource for District constituents, including students, parent/guardians, and employees, regarding District-related matters.
1.4. The Office strives to provide services that are independent, impartial, informal, and confidential.
1.5. In the event the Office expands to include any other personnel, this Charter and the standards and policies within it will apply to every such person.
1.6. This Charter embodies the terms, conditions, and principles on which the Ombuds Office was established. It is in accordance with International Ombudsman Association (“IOA”) Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, which states “Each ombuds program will have a charter, terms of reference, or a detailed program description approved by executive leadership of the organization that complies with the provisions of the IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and that articulates the basis on which the Ombuds operates.”
2. Duties of the Ombuds
2.1. The primary duties of the Ombuds are to: 1) assist individuals with exploring options to informally resolve District-related conflict and concerns and 2) monitor Office data in order to raise awareness of emerging issues and concerns.
2.2. When possible, the Ombuds will facilitate outcomes that build trust, enhance relationships, improve communication, and promote continuous improvement within the organization.
2.3. District-related conflict or concerns may be voluntarily brought to the Ombuds Office by District constituents, including students, parent/guardians, and employees.
2.4. The Ombuds may assist District constituents who seek guidance in a context where there may be a lack of trust, breakdown in communication, power imbalance, and concern for confidentiality or retaliation.
2.5. The Ombuds will maintain minimal records. Temporary notes and any other concern-related materials will be maintained in a secure, confidential manner and will be destroyed once the Ombuds concludes their involvement in a matter. The Ombuds will have a consistent practice in place for the timely destruction of confidential information. To the maximum extent possible, the Ombuds Office’s record-keeping system will be independent of the organization’s technology system, with access restricted to the Ombuds and minimal, high-level Innovation and Technology personnel. It is understood that the Ombuds Office is excepted from any District records retention policy, except as otherwise required by law.
2.6. The Ombuds will maintain a database in order to track and monitor non-identifying, concern related data (e.g., number of contacts received, category of concerns, etc.) for the Office.
2.7. The Ombuds will regularly issue reports that summarize program information (e.g., statistics, emerging issues, etc.) in a manner that protects confidentiality.
2.8. The Ombuds will take action to inform District constituents about the role, function, and limitations of the Office and position. The Ombuds will make information about the Office and the position publicly available to all District constituents in appropriate forms, including electronic means.
2.9. The Ombuds will keep professionally current through relevant continuing education. The Ombuds will be a member of IOA and will attend the annual IOA conferences and relevant trainings whenever possible. All trainings requiring significant cost or time commitment, must be approved by Superintendent.
3. Reporting Structure
3.1. The Ombuds will report to the Superintendent regarding administrative and budgetary matters. Despite the requisite reporting structure, confidentiality is of the utmost importance in the Ombuds Office’s operation and provision of services and will be upheld to the highest degree possible.
3.2. The Ombuds will meet periodically throughout the year with the Superintendent to maintain a reporting relationship, which may include sharing non-identifying information such as the number of cases, category of concerns, and disclosure of emerging issues.
4. Authority of the Ombuds
The authority of the Ombuds derives from the establishment of the Ombuds Office by District administration and the enactment of this Charter. The District recognizes that the Ombuds has the independent authority to engage in the following actions as an integral part of their role.
4.1. Consult with District constituents: The Ombuds may consult with District constituents, including students, parent/guardians, and employees, whether it be via email, in-person, video conference, and/or teleconference. The Ombuds has the authority to discuss concerns, informal and formal pathways for resolution, formal resources (internal and external), next steps, and other relevant information. The Ombuds will provide information on and connect individuals with proper formal channels and resources as needed and as appropriate. The Ombuds has discretion over whether and how to engage with those seeking Ombuds services.
4.2. Implement informal dispute resolution processes: The Ombuds may implement informal dispute resolution processes such as informal mediation, shuttle diplomacy, and/or conflict resolution best practices. Informal dispute resolution processes are a voluntary, structured interaction between involved parties to resolve a conflict or concern. In any informal mediation process, the Ombuds will not create or maintain any documents or written agreements within the Office.
4.3. Access to leadership: The Ombuds will be authorized at the highest levels of the organization and will have access to the Superintendent, administrators, individual School Board members, and School Board, while being mindful of Open Meetings law.
4.4. Access information: The Ombuds will have access to relevant individuals and information within the organization to the extent permitted by law and as necessary to fulfill their informal role. The Ombuds may request access to District information related to individual concerns and will respect and preserve the confidentiality of that information. The District asserts its departments and employees should respond to requests by the Ombuds for information with reasonable promptness.
4.5. Decline/withdraw from participation in a concern: The Ombuds may withdraw from or decline to participate in a concern, at their discretion, if they believe their involvement would be inappropriate for any reason (e.g., conflict of interest, non-jurisdictional/non-District related concerns, initiation of formal process, etc.)
4.6. Access to legal counsel: The Ombuds is authorized to access legal counsel as needed and as appropriate at the expense of the District.
4.7. Manage office operations: The Ombuds will have the authority to manage the operations of the Ombuds Office. The Ombuds will have a specific allocated budget, adequate space, and sufficient resources to fulfill their role.
5. Limitations of the Ombuds Authority
Due to the independent, impartial, informal, and confidential principles upon which the Ombuds Office was established, the Ombuds does not have authority to do the following:
5.1. Receive notice of claims against the District: The Ombuds is not authorized to receive notice of claims, complaints, or grievances against the organization unless specifically and expressly required by law. The Ombuds may refer individuals to the appropriate resources where formal notice of claims may be made.
5.2. Participate in formal processes, investigations, or complaints: The Ombuds will not participate in any formal processes but may refer individuals to formal processes and resources. However, once an individual has initiated a formal process, the Ombuds will refrain from further communication and involvement while the process is ongoing, except to the extent the Ombuds may be able to do so consistent with the guiding principles outlined in this document.
5.3. Maintain or manage organizational records: The Ombuds will not create or maintain permanent organizational documents or records containing confidential information.
5.4. Advocate for individual parties or entities: The Ombuds will not serve as an advocate or representative for any individual party or the District in regards to any concern, conflict, or dispute.
5.5. Provide legal advice: The Ombuds has no authority to legally advise any individual or entity but may refer individuals to relevant legal resources.
5.6. Make binding decisions, mandate policies, or adjudicate issues: The Ombuds has no authority to mandate, enforce, or change any policy, procedure, or rule; make or overturn District decisions; or direct the organization or any individual to take a specific course of action. The Office does not receive, review, or process appeals regarding any District decisions.
6. Core Values
6.1. The Ombuds role requires that all duties be conducted in a professional manner. The following core values are essential to the work of the Ombuds:
- Act with honesty and integrity;
- Promote fairness and support fair process;
- Remain non-judgmental, with empathy and respect for individual differences;
- Promote dignity, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging;
- Communicate accurate understanding through active listening;
- Promote individual empowerment, self-determination, and collaborative problem-solving; and
- Endeavor to be an accessible, trusted, and respected informal resource.
8. Guiding Principles
8.1. Independence: The Ombuds is independent in appearance, purpose, and practice. The Ombuds operates independently of staff reporting structures and without influence from other individuals, functions, or entities within the organization.
8.2. Impartiality: The Ombuds is a designated neutral and impartial resource who does not take sides or serve as an advocate for any person or entity. The Ombuds works collaboratively with all parties and avoids conflict of interest (perceived and actual).
8.3. Informality: The Ombuds is a voluntary, supplemental resource that does not participate in any formal processes (e.g., evaluative, disciplinary, legal, or administrative proceedings) related to concerns brought to the Ombuds Office. The Ombuds is not authorized as a formal reporting channel for the organization except when mandated by law. Due to the voluntary nature of the Office, those who elect to utilize its services, will be understood to have agreed to the terms, conditions, and principles on which it was created and not call on the Ombuds to testify or produce documents with respect to confidential communications in any formal, administrative, legal, or other proceedings. In creating the Ombuds Office on the basis of these terms, conditions, and principles, the District also agrees that it will not call on the Ombuds to testify or produce documents with respect to any confidential communications in any formal, administrative, legal, or other proceedings.
8.4. Confidentiality: Confidentiality is the defining characteristic of the Ombuds Office. The identity of those seeking assistance from the Ombuds and all relevant communications are confidential. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Ombuds will protect confidential information and others cannot waive this requirement. The Ombuds and District will take reasonable measures to safeguard the confidentiality of the Ombuds Office. The Ombuds Office will resist any attempts to compel disclosure of confidential communications or documents by invoking the terms and conditions of this Charter and by asserting a claim of confidentiality under any applicable rule or statute under which confidential communications may be protected.
8.5. Exceptions to Confidentiality: There are certain circumstances in which the Office does not maintain confidentiality, including, but not limited to, mandatory reporting of child abuse/Chapter 102, mandatory reporting of ethics violations, Title IX/sexual harassment, or an imminent threat of serious harm, and such other circumstances provided by law or in accordance with IOA Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.
8.5.1. Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse/Chapter 102: As an employee of the District, the Ombuds is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and abuse of students by school employees. To comply with this legal requirement, where the Ombuds determines that there are signs of abuse, the Ombuds will report the necessary details to the appropriate District official(s), Police Department, and/or Department of Human Services as needed and document the fact that this report was made per District Policy. This is an exception to the Office’s policy against maintaining records for the benefit of the District.
8.5.2. Mandatory Reporting of Ethics Violations: Any disciplinary action against a licensed employee in the following mandatory reporting areas must be reported to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE):
- Soliciting, encouraging, or consummating a romantic or otherwise inappropriate relationship with a student.
- Falsifying student grades, test scores, or other official information or material.
- Converting public property or funds to the personal use of the school employee.
- Being on school premises or at a school-sponsored activity involving students while under the influence of, possessing, using, or consuming illegal drugs, unauthorized drugs, or alcohol.
- Discrimination on the basis of free speech or intellectual freedom.
The Ombuds will report the necessary details to the appropriate District official(s) and/or the Iowa BOEE as needed and document the fact that the report was made per District policy. This is an exception to the office’s policy against maintaining records for the benefit of the District.
8.5.3. Title IX/Sexual Harassment: The revisions to the regulations to Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), promulgated in June 2020 and codified at 34 C.F.R. Part 106, clarified that all employees of elementary and secondary schools, including an "ombudsperson" is considered a mandatory reporter of sexual harassment within the scope of Title IX.
8.5.4. Imminent Threat of Serious Harm: When the Ombuds determines that there is an imminent threat of serious harm, the Ombuds may make disclosures to prevent and avoid such harm. For this purpose, “imminent threat of serious harm” is defined as imminent risk to human life or serious bodily injury.
9. Accountability and Evaluation
The work performance of the Ombuds will be evaluated annually by the Superintendent. The evaluation will include a self-assessment.
The District will assure that all District constituents have the right to consult with the Ombuds without reprisal. The District will not tolerate retaliation against individuals for use of the Office. Similarly, the Ombuds will be protected from retaliation as a result of their role. The Ombuds will be independent from control, limitation, or a penalty imposed for retaliatory purposes by a District official or by a person who may be the subject of a concern.
11. Amendment and Revocation
This Charter remains in effect unless revoked and may only be amended or revoked by the Iowa City Community School District’s Board approval.