- Northern Essex Community College - http://www.necc.mass.edu -
Student Grievance Procedure
In an ideal world, everyone would be caring and cared for, all decisions would be fair and just, and all people would be in complete agreement as to what constitutes fairness and justice. Until we reach that ideal, however, we must live with imperfection while always pursuing fairness and justice.
For the vast majority of students, and most of the time, the system works at least reasonably well. Most students believe they have been treated fairly by the college and by any and all of the individuals representing the college. The Student Grievance Procedure is a mechanism by which a student may seek to remedy the rare situation where she/he feels she/he has been treated unfairly, and has not been able to obtain justice in any less formal manner.
The Student Grievance Procedure is a community college system-wide policy approved by the Northern Essex Community College Board of Trustees, April 19, 2001.
Before invoking the Student Grievance Procedure, a reasonable effort shall be made by those involved in a dispute to resolve it amicably. A dispute is most effectively handled and resolved by those closest to the problem, having the best understanding of the issues, and having the ability to formulate a mutually acceptable resolution. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the student, the potential subject of a grievance, and the College to resolve disputes through open and cooperative dialogue. Only when such efforts are unsuccessful should the Student Grievance Procedure be invoked. Throughout all phases of the Student Grievance Procedure, all reasonable efforts shall be made to maintain confidentiality in accordance with applicable law.
Grievance – A written complaint filed by a student with the person designated by the President as the Student Grievance Officer specifically alleging an abridgment of his or her rights as a student.
Grievant – The student or students filing the complaint or grievance. The Grievant must have been a registered student of the College at the time of the alleged mistreatment.
Responding Party – The person against whom a complaint or grievance is directed.
Student Grievance Officer – A College employee assigned responsibility for administering the Student Grievance Procedure, including the maintenance of specified records. The Student Grievance Officer shall ordinarily be the Senior Student Affairs Officer. If this individual is the person against whom the grievance is filed, the President shall designate another College official to act as the Student Grievance Officer.
Time – The number of days indicated at each level shall be considered as a maximum. All reasonable efforts shall be made to expedite the process, but the President or his/her designee may extend the time limits in extenuating circumstances with notice to both parties in writing, or by mutual written agreement between the Grievant and the Responding Party.
Day – As used in this policy, shall mean a calendar day.
Senior Officer - Senior level employee who reports to the President for the Responding Party’s work area.
Instructional Period – The academic semester, summer session or intersession when a Grievant knows or should have known of a grievable act or inaction. The Instructional Period shall end on the last day of final exams.
The Student Grievance Procedure may be used by a student to address complaints concerning the alleged abridgment of the student’s rights, as stated in the College’s Student Handbook and/or Policy Guide. The student Grievant or the Responding Party may consult with the Student Grievance Officer at any time.
The Student Grievance Procedure may not be used for complaints alleging sexual harassment or discrimination. When a student believes that he/she has been discriminated against due to his/her race, creed, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information or national origin, the College’s Affirmative Action Grievance Procedure is a mechanism for resolution. The College’s Affirmative Action Grievance Procedure is contained in the College’s Affirmative Action Plan. The College’s Affirmative Action Officer is Associate Dean, Human Resources, or his designee.
If a complaint involves a grade dispute, a student shall process the complaint in accordance with the Student Grievance Procedure, even if the student alleges that a grade was improper because of discrimination.
A claim of physical or sexual assault shall not proceed under the Student Grievance Procedure. A student claiming physical or sexual assault by an employee of the College shall report the incident to the College’s Security Department and/or the Director of Human Resources. A student claiming physical or sexual assault by another student or an employee claiming physical or sexual assault by a student shall report the incident to the College’s Security Department and/or the Assistant Dean of College Life and Healthy Living.
Further, in matters involving physical assault, students and employees are strongly encouraged to report the incident to the local authorities.
Except for under extenuating circumstances, as determined by the President or his/her designee, failure by either party to comply with the Student Grievance Procedure during the course of a grievance shall result in the waiving of the noncompliant party’s rights under the Procedure.
This is the informal stage where most complaints are resolved. The Grievant and the Responding Party should consult with the Student Grievance Officer at this time.
A student grievant initiates the informal phase of the grievance process. As students are strongly encouraged to address complaints as soon as possible so that the Responding Party may take corrective action, if necessary, an informal complaint shall be brought to the Responding Party’s attention by the Grievant within thirty (30) calendar days from when the Grievant knew or should have known of the grievable act or inaction.
The Responding Party must respond to the Grievant’s complaint within ten (10) days. Though this phase of the process is informal, the parties may present their positions in writing. If the matter is not resolved informally within ten (10) calendar days from the date a response to the complaint was due, the Grievant may proceed to Level Two.
In some cases, due to the nature of a Grievant’s complaint, a Grievant may be unwilling to confront a Responding Party during the instructional period. Under such circumstances, in order for a Grievant to initiate the grievance procedure and preserve his/her rights under the procedure, the Grievant must submit his/her informal complaint to the Student Grievance Officer within thirty (30) calendar days from when the Grievant knew or should have known of the grievable act or inaction. Thereafter, the Grievant may request the Student Grievance Officer to notify the Responding Party of the informal complaint without identifying the Grievant, or the Grievant may request that the Responding Party not be notified until the conclusion of the instructional period. In either case, the student may file a formal complaint no later than thirty (30) calendar days following the end of the instructional period during which the Grievant knew or should have known of the grievable act or inaction.
Prior to filing a written grievance at Level Two, a Grievant must consult with the Student Grievance Officer. The Responding Party should also consult with the Student Grievance Officer at this phase of the process.
The Student Grievance Officer shall notify the parties in writing when a complaint is not resolved informally at Level One.
The Grievant may, within ten (10) calendar days after receipt of the Student Grievance Officer’s written notice, file with the Student Grievance Officer a formal written grievance. The grievance shall contain the following information: the name and title of the person(s) against whom the grievance is directed, a statement of all known facts, documents and materials supporting the grievance, a list of individuals who have information pertinent to the grievance, and the relief sought by the Grievant. All supporting documents, if any, shall be attached to the grievance as part of the grievance. The grievance shall also state the date it is filed and that it is being filed at “Level Two, Step One.”
The grievance may be filed with the Student Grievance Officer by regular mail, certified mail, or in hand. Thereafter, the Student Grievance Officer shall deliver the grievance, and all supporting documents, if any, to the Responding Party within five (5) calendar days. If the Responding Party is unavailable at the time the grievance is filed, the Student Grievance Officer shall use reasonable means to deliver the grievance within a reasonable period of time.
The Responding Party shall forward a written Level Two – Step One response to the Student Grievance Officer within ten (10) calendar days of his/her receipt of the grievance. The Student Grievance Officer shall deliver the written response to the Grievant within five (5) calendar days of receipt.
If the grievance is not resolved to the satisfaction of the Grievant within ten (10) calendar days after his/her receipt of the Step One response, or if no written response is submitted, the Grievant may within ten (10) calendar days after the written response was received or due, request the Student Grievance Officer to forward the written grievance and response, if any, to the supervisor of the Responding Party, with a copy to the Senior Officer of the work area of the Responding Party.
The supervisor shall investigate the grievance and confer with the Senior Officer. The supervisor shall forward his/her written decision to the Student Grievance Officer, within ten (10) calendar days after receipt of the Step Two grievance. Thereafter, the Student Grievance Officer shall deliver the decision to the Grievant and the Responding Party within five (5) calendar days.
At any time before the issuance of the Supervisor’s Step Two decision, the Senior Officer may request that the parties meet to discuss the issue and attempt to resolve it.
Grade appeals do not go beyond this Step (Level Two – Step Two) per the section on Grade Appeals.
Either party to a grievance may raise no new issues or allegations after Step Two.
If the grievance is not resolved to the satisfaction of the Grievant within the period allowed at Level Two – Step Two, the Grievant may request a hearing before a Student Grievance Committee. Such a request must be in writing and presented to the Student Grievance Officer within ten (10) calendar days from the issuance of the Supervisor’s Level Two – Step Two decision.
Within ten (10) calendar days of the Student Grievance Officer’s receipt of the Grievant’s request for a hearing, the Student Grievance Officer shall arrange a hearing before a Student Grievance Committee. The Student Grievance Officer shall use reasonable efforts to schedule the hearing at a time mutually convenient to the parties. At least twenty-four (24) hours prior to the hearing, the Student Grievance Officer shall provide each member of the Committee and all parties to the grievance with copies of the grievance, responses to the grievance, decisions issued, and all relevant supporting documentation and materials. The Committee’s make-up and hearing rules are discussed later in this policy.
The Committee shall deliver its findings and recommendations to the Student Grievance Officer within ten (10) calendar days following the hearing. A copy of the Committee’s findings and recommendations shall be delivered to the Grievant, the Responding Party, and the President or his/her designee, within five (5) calendar days of receipt.
Within ten (10) calendar days of the President’s receipt of the Committee’s findings and recommendations, the President or his/her designee, shall issue a written statement accepting, modifying or rejecting the Committee’s recommendations.
The decision of the President, or his/her designee, shall be final and binding on all parties.
Complaints or grievances filed in connection with assigned grades represent a special case within the grievance procedure. Grading reflects careful and deliberate assessment of a student’s performance by the instructing professional(s). As such decisions are necessarily judgmental; the substance of those decisions may not be delegated to the grievance process. Nevertheless, the College recognizes that in
rare cases the process of grading may be subject to error or injustice.
Except as otherwise provided by separate appeals procedures for clinical programs as approved by the President of the College, a student who alleges an error or injustice in the grading process may file a grievance under the Student Grievance Procedure. A grade appeal grievance shall proceed no further than Level Two, Step Two. For purposes of a grade appeal, the Senior Academic Officer of the College,
or his/her designee, shall serve as the Student Grievance Officer throughout the grade appeal process.
If the faculty member who assigned the challenged grade is no longer employed by the College or is not available within the timelines specified (see “Time” definition), the student may initiate his/her Level One complaint with the chief administrator of the appropriate instructional division (who shall be identified by the Vice President, Academic Affairs).
If at any level substantial evidence of error is produced, the grading process may be remanded to the instructor of record for reassessment. If the instructor of record is no longer available, the chief administrator of the appropriate instructional division or his/her designee shall instead reassess the grading process.
The composition of the College’s Student Grievance Committee shall consist of five members: one student, one unit professional, one faculty member, one non-unit professional and one unit classified employee. The President or his/her designee shall appoint each member from among the recommendations submitted by the Student Grievance Officer.
Service on a Committee shall be voluntary, provided that a member who has a personal interest in the particular grievance shall be ineligible to serve on a Grievance Committee. All College employees serving on a Student Grievance Committee, and acting within the scope of their official duties on the Committee, shall be covered to the full extent provided under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 258, including, the indemnification provision contained in M.G.L., Chapter 258, Section 9.
All Student Grievance Committee members, as well as all others in attendance at a student grievance proceeding, shall maintain the confidentiality of the proceedings. The Student Grievance Officer shall attend all Committee hearings but shall not vote.
The following guidelines provide the framework for conducting a Student Grievance Committee Hearing:
A student may withdraw his/her complaint or grievance at any time. Withdrawal must be accomplished in writing or by oral agreement confirmed in writing.
No member of the College community shall retaliate or threaten to retaliate against, interfere with, restrain, or coerce any student in the exercise of his/her rights under the Student Grievance Procedure or his/her participation in any grievance proceedings.
If the recommendations made at any level of the grievance procedure result in sanctions against a college employee, the sanctions shall be regarded as administrative actions subject to all conditions of applicable collective bargaining agreements and College or Board of Higher Education personnel policies.
Filing a grievance in accordance with the Student Grievance Procedure in no way abrogates a student’s right to file a complaint with an appropriate state or federal agency or in another forum.
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