By Heather Mullinix
Though the first reading of a policy change eliminating final exam exemptions for students attaining certain grade and attendance standards was passed by the Cumberland County Board of Education at its June 27 regular meeting, it failed to gain a second successful vote at the July 8 special-called meeting of the board.
With a 5-4 vote, the board returned the provision that lets students skip their final exams at the high school level.
Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, said, "Honors students who are making good grades, they say that is the only reward they get for attending and being a top student."
Hutson noted students can still take final exams if they so choose. Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, noted all students were required to take other tests throughout the year.
Cumberland County High School Principal Janet Graham said those were chapter or unit tests, but a lot of students never had to prepare for or take a comprehensive exam in a subject.
"We get this feedback every year [from past graduates]," Graham said. "They feel it's a great perk but that, ultimately, we're doing them an injustice when they get to college."
That's been the result of graduate surveys the seven years she's served as principal of CCHS, she said. Students are allowed to skip exams if they have an A average and no more than three excused absences; a B average and no more than two excused absences; or a C average and no more than one excused absence.
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, noted the exemption policy was implemented when he was in high school around 2000.
"I enjoyed it. When I went to college, it was no big deal," he said.
He added he'd been told removing the exemption would negatively impact attendance. He suggested having parents sign a waiver for students to be excused.
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said he'd talk to parents and graduates who had thought they were well prepared for college, finishing near the top of their class.
"They said nothing had prepared them for a comprehensive exam because they'd never had to take one," he said.
He also said some students would insist on attending school to meet the exemption requirements even though they were ill and should stay home.
Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, said the workforce provided annual reviews of employee performance.
"We're supposed to be getting these students ready for the workforce. I think they need to get used to this is what's going to happen in life. They're not going to be rewarded for being a 'good boy,'" he said.
Director of Schools Donald Andrews said his former school system had a similar policy and it did create issues of students coming to school sick and feeling unprepared in college.
"My recommendation is that all students take comprehensive exams," he said.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said there are those who report they learn something new while preparing for these comprehensive exams.
"What is the purpose of the final exam? A., it could be a form of punishment. You missed a few days and you take the test. B., it can be a form of classifying students. But the most noble purpose is to promote learning," he said.
Hutson moved to reinstate the exam exemption as previously provided for in the policy, supported by David Bowman,7th District representative. The motion passed with Brewer, Hutson, Stone, Bowman and Gordon Davis, 5th District representative. Voting against were Tollett, Janeway, Blalock and Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative.
Other changes to the attendance policy, particularly the provision that only work missed for an excused absence could be made up, was approved on second reading. Bowman moved to approve the policy, supported by Stone. The motion passed with Janeway voting no.
Other policy changes approved on second reading were:
•Zero tolerance offenses, policy 6.309, adding electronic threats as a reason for expulsion.
•Nepotism, policy 1.108, calling for disclosure of family relationships of new hires to board members, the director, school administrators, county commissioners or any appointed or elected official; requiring board members to disclose any such relationship prior to voting on any matter that may have an effect on the employment of that relative; and not allowing someone to directly supervise or be directly supervised by a relative. Relatives will include spouse, parents, in-laws, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or any person residing in the same household. The policy was passed with Bowman and Hutson voting no, with Hutson saying the policy singled out county commissioners.
•Emergency preparedness plan, policy 3.202, calls for the first fire drill to be held within the first 15 days of the start of the school year, one fire drill every month and three additional safety drills throughout the school year to cover inclement weather, armed intruders or other emergency situations.
•Suspension/expulsion/remand, policy 6.319, states a student may not face disciplinary action if, after investigation, administrators find a student acted in self-defense under reasonable believe they or another student may have been facing the threat of imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.
•Home schools, policy 6.202, adding home school students may try out for athletic teams at public schools for teams recognized by the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association. Students must be registered as home school students with the school system in a home school conducted by the student's parent or guardian and register their intent to participate prior to April 30 of the upcoming fall sports season, and prior to Nov. 1 for the upcoming spring sport season. The policy does not guarantee home school students will make the team, but does ensure they be allowed to try out.
•Physical assault leave, policy 5.307, providing workers' compensation benefits to teachers who are absent from work as a result of personal injury caused by physical assault or other violent criminal acts committed in the course of the teacher's duties.
•Extracurricular activity drug testing, policy 6.3071, removes "all signatures must be witnessed by a designated school official and must comply with consent requirements as stated on the consent form."