By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education will consider action on placing displays of the Ten Commandments in schools when it meets in January following a request from a member of the community.
Star Stone, of Crossville, said, "I'm here to request that the Ten Commandments be allowed to be displayed in our public schools. I think it would be impossible to quantify the historical and moral value the Ten Commandments have on our society. The Ten Commandments played an important role in establishing our judicial system and still hang in the courtroom of the Supreme Court."
The Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation authorizing local governments to put up displays containing the documents in March and the bill was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in April.
The bill was introduced by state Rep. Matthew Hill—R, Jonesborough.
The bill allows local government to erect monuments or displays of the Ten Commandments, along with other "historically significant documents," such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Mayflower Compact and the Magna Carta.
The bill's preamble says the documents "are treasures that should be displayed proudly and resolutely in public buildings and on public grounds."
"That is not a religious statement," Hill told the Tennessean in an April interview. "It is not meant to set up a theocracy or convert anybody. It is history."
Stone told the board, "Half of the commandments are instructions on how to interact with other people and, therefore, I believe displaying the Ten Commandments in our schools would serve to reinforce the character education curriculum and promote good citizenship for our current and future students.
"And in light of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, I believe it wouldn't hurt to remind us that 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, asked that the item be placed on the agenda for January.
Each school currently has a "Freedom Wall" that includes a display of historical documents. These walls are sponsored by the Lake Tansi Exchange Club. Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle said these walls did not currently contain a mention of the Ten Commandments.
The board will also consider changes to its policy regarding drug testing for employees seeking treatment for an on-the-job injury or accident. Currently, the policy requires testing and refusal to submit to testing or a positive result can be grounds for forfeiting Workmen's Compensation benefits, disciplinary action or termination of employment.
The policy committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education approved a recommendation to include hair follicle testing for drugs and alcohol if the initial screening takes place more than 72 hours after the incident where the employee was injured. The school system would bear the cost of this test.
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, supported the change, saying, "I'm in favor if it helps deter drug use among our employees."
Janeway voiced concern that no other school system in the state had a policy similar to this. He was also concerned about how specific testing could be as far as the date and time a substance was consumed. Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said there was also a concern of false positives from hair follicle testing.
VanWinkle estimated only about six employees waited to seek medical attention beyond 72 hours in an average year. Many times, those employees didn't realize the extent of their injury right away and chose not to go to the doctor immediately. She added Tennessee Risk Management, which is the school system's insurance provider, is OK with the policy change, but it is not required.
Josh Stone and Tollett agreed to present the change to the board for consideration, while Janeway was not in favor.
A minor change to the elementary promotion and retention policy was also approved by the committee, with the policy noting decisions to retain or promote are subject to review and approval of the principal after consultation with the teacher.
Discussion on increasing the insurance requirements for employees who use their private vehicles for school business, determined to leave those limits as they currently are and revisit the issue if the state requires higher limits in the future.
The board will meet Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. at the Central Office.