BOE committee talks student concerns

Published 3:08 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

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The Claiborne School Board spent a good bit of its time, in committee meeting last week, holding an impromptu discussion about student concerns with some members of the faculty.

The board decided during its retreat in April to have school principals input suggestions for the Student Code of Conduct. Jeff Stephenson, vice-principal of Claiborne High, brought his suggestions before the committee.

Stephenson asked the board to consider ‘streamlining’ punishments at both high schools.

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He said he was concerned that the consequences of student infractions can, and often is, different from student to student.

He presented a working list for each punishment level, from mild to the more serious infractions like bullying, fighting and drugs on campus.

Repeat offenders would be held to more serious consequences than first-timers. And, those handing out the punishments would not necessarily use the same level for a ‘first-time’ offender as for one who chronically misbehaves, said Stephenson.

Vice-chairman Shannon England said she did not understand why it cannot be the same punishment for the same action, district-wide.

“You can’t say, ‘well, you had a dress code violation today, so you’re at level 2. But, you had one, too, but you’re at level 3 because, last week, you ran out of the classroom.’ I don’t agree with that, at all. Who says what level you jump to,” said England.

The list, Stephenson said, would be used more often for the minor offenses.

“If there’s somebody at Cumberland Gap who has a dress code violation, and there’s somebody at Claiborne who skipped, they’re both at level one. The major offenses, like fighting, depends on whether you’ve been in trouble (before), or not,” said Stephenson.

Board member Shane Bunch turned the discussion to parent involvement. He asked about the procedure when making contact with a parent of a misbehaving student.

During his explanation, Stephenson said 20-30 percent of the attempts are unsuccessful. He estimated there are about 400 incidents of policy infractions during a typical school year.

He said getting many of the parents to come in and talk, one-on-one, is nearly impossible.

“We try to get the parents in. Sometimes, they don’t care. You try to tell them and they say, ‘thank you’ and they hang up,” said Stephenson.

One teacher in the audience said she had witnessed instances of students in grades K-4 coming to school sick.

“Can you imagine leaving your child at school all day long and them throwing up, and you don’t have a phone anywhere where somebody can get hold of you. That happens all the time, at our school. They’re sick as dogs. They can’t hold their heads up.

“By the time these kids get to high school – you can forget getting those parents to come,” she said.

Another teacher in the audience said she had parents say “you deal with it. I don’t know what to do with them, anymore.”

Bunch said he felt there are some in that group that could be reached.

“I think we do much better, sitting at a table, talking one-on-one to someone. If we can do that, we could probably eliminate a lot of problems, down the road,” said Bunch.

Stephenson said that, during the parent/teacher conferences, his school is fortunate to see 10 or 15 parents attend.

“It’s great that they come in. But, those are not the ones we need to see,” said Stephenson.

Board member Linda Fultz pointed to previous years when students and parents would be summoned to court.

“The parents were threatened with jail time. Well, that doesn’t happen, anymore. We don’t have a strong court system, now,” said Fultz.

Dr. Joseph Miller, director of schools, said he had asked the state education director if anything was being done, on the judicial side, to help with student accountability.

“For many of our students, school is an artificial situation. There’s a set of norms and rules at school. When they go home, those norms or rules are different. The expectations are different,” said Miller.

As it now stands, most parents do show up for Truancy Board. However, that is a ‘last-ditch’ attempt, said Bunch.

“We better come up with some ideas that will work, now. And, it better be something, fast. We can’t be waiting 15 to 20 years down the road to do something,” said Bunch.

An audience member said that respect is something that is supposed to be taught at home.

“If you don’t have respect for your parents, you don’t have respect for anybody. And, we can do whatever we want at school. And, some of those kids you’ll reach …. (But), when mom and dad can’t make them get out of bed, in fourth grade, to come to school – there’s a problem,” she said.

Stephenson also asked that the board look at two additional concerns. The first suggestion is to prohibit high school seniors from participating in graduation ceremonies unless they have completed all required credit hours.

The current policy allows seniors to participate while still shy up to two credit hours, with the notion that the students will complete the hours during summer school, he said.

Much of the time, he said, this does not occur.

The second suggestion had to do with absences by 18-year-old seniors.

“They do get lazy. A lot of them have only one or two classes they need to graduate. The other times, they’re just not there (at school). We have some that have 30, 40, 50 unexcused absences. They’ll still graduate, because they’ll get those (required) courses.

“It kills us, for attendance,” said Stephenson.

He suggested placing a cap of 10 unexcused absences or the senior will be barred from participating in the graduation ceremony.

“We had one kid, last year, who tried to graduate early. He did not qualify. But, he had all the graduation requirements by Christmas. So, of course, he had four courses that were not graduation-required credits. He just didn’t show up. So, for 80 days, he was absent. But, he still got to graduate. His only punishment was four ‘Fs’ on his transcript,” said Stephenson.

Other chronically absentee seniors are waiting until the 11th hour to ‘make up’ their courses, causing problems for teachers who are scrambling to complete year-end testing and other last-minute duties.

This causes students who have faithfully attended all year to question why the absentee students are allowed to ‘pass.’

During the discussion, it was suggested that moving the proms to the very end of the school year might help.

Absenteeism will be a factor, beginning next year, when each school district is graded by the state.

The committee agreed to research other school districts to see what they are doing to address the issue.

The next meeting of the Claiborne School Board will begin at 6 p.m. on July 12, inside the large courtroom of the Claiborne County Courthouse. The public is encouraged to attend these monthly meetings.