By Heather Mullinix
The policy committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education is looking to Cleveland city schools for direction on establishing a new policy to govern the naming of schools and school facilities.
The new policy consideration comes following a request from North Cumberland Elementary to name its football field in honor of long-time Cumberland County educator and the school’s first principal Estel Oaks. The committee reviewed several policies from across the state and from Randolph County, NC, where Director of Schools Donald Andrews previously served.
“This might seem insignificant, but there are school systems getting into a heap of trouble over these kinds of things,” said Charles Tollett, 1st District representative. “To have time for this to be on the table and publicity around the community, you reduce the chances of people being upset because they’ve had a chance to talk about it and think about it for a time.”
Among the provisions included in the policy is that the naming of school facilities for individuals with the following criteria:
•Made significant contributions to the school or school division;
•Not solely based on service longevity;
•Only individuals of strong moral character will be considered.
Individuals who would like to nominate someone to have an area of a school facility named for the nominee would be required to complete an application and include the name of three references, including a current member of the board of education. Those nominations are to be done during a specific part of the year, and the nominating entity would bear the cost of a plaque, ordered through the school system and installed by the staff.
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, questioned if the policy should exclude living individuals, especially since several school facilities are named for individuals still living.
“I don’t want to make a policy that we’re already in violation of,” Stone said.
It was noted that facilities currently named for specific individuals would be grandfathered in.
“The last thing we want to do is be renaming ball fields or schools,” said Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative and policy committee chairman. “The purpose of this is to give some direction going forward.”
There was a question of which school facilities are currently named in honor of individuals and Andrews and his staff were tasked with compiling a list of those facilities.
Tollett cautioned against naming facilities after living people, noting a situation where many college universities named buildings in honor of Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton, who was implicated in a pay for pardons scandal in 1979 and convicted of charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and extortion for selling liquor licenses. Tollett recalled watching workers chisel Blanton’s name off buildings.
“What a grim reminder that is of the folly of naming facilities after a living individual who is still capable of messing up,” Tollett said.
Andrews noted his previous school system included a waiting time of two months for naming requests, to allow the public time to provide input before a decision is made.
The committee asked Andrews to develop a recommended policy using their input from the meeting as well as a list of currently named facilities.
“We need to have some documentation what’s out there,” Janeway said. “To me, anybody who’s going to have something named after them is going to have exemplary service to public education in Cumberland County.”
Stone worried delaying adoption of a policy could delay North Cumberland’s plan to invite Oaks’ widow to Homecoming festivities for a dedication ceremony. The Cleveland policy calls for nominations from March to May. The committee discussed the possibility of changing that to a fall and spring nomination period.
The committee also discussed a policy dealing with transfers within the system, which would be necessary to comply with state law requiring an open enrollment period for schools with adequate space available.
The county has long applied such a policy to its elementary schools, but the new law also applies to high school students. The open enrollment period in the policy states requests to transfer within the school system should be made in June each year. The director and his designee would review requests and, if space is available, grant transfers “unless a transfer would be adverse to the best interest of the child or the school system.” Students would be required to provide their own transportation to and from the school.
At the high school level, Stone Memorial High School does not have space available to take out-of-zone students, but Cumberland County High School could accommodate additional students. That has led to questions of athletic eligibility for students who transfer.
Stone said, “TSSAA [Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association] rules the roost in athletics and if students transfer without moving they would not be eligible to play for a year.”
That has led to more questions about students entering the 9th grade that have never played for the other high school. TSSAA has not yet issued guidance to school systems on this topic. The state law does not go into effect until the 2014-’15 school year.
Assistant Director of Curriculum Instruction and Accountability Rebecca Wood also cautioned the board on the effect taking transfer students could have on the school and school system, requiring an additional teacher to maintain class size ratios.
In other action, the committee recommended a further change to the attendance policy so that it will comply with state law. Currently, the policy states students with 10 consecutive or 15 reported absences, either excused or unexcused, would make the student ineligible to retain a driver’s permit or license. State law requires that provision apply only to unexcused absences. As the change is necessary to comply with state law, it will require only one successful reading by the Cumberland County Board of Education.
The committee also recommended adding language to the home school policy to clarify the testing required of home school students. Currently, state law only requires home school students to be tested on comprehensive tests in grades 5, 7 and 9. The committee recommended adding the state law reference to the policy so that it would remain current even if the state elected to change those testing requirements.
Those policy changes will go to the full board for consideration at its Aug. 22 meeting.
The next meeting of the policy committee is set for Sept. 17 at 4:30 p.m. at Central Services. The agenda will include discussion of a policy for Cumberland County students participating in a foreign exchange program and a civility policy.