By Heather Mullinix
At the high school level, athletic programs must abide by stringent rules regarding when and how often teams can practice, particularly in the off season. But those rules don't apply to elementary athletes.
Director of Schools Donald Andrews told the policy committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education Tuesday he would like to form a task force of principals, coaches and other interested parties and recommend a policy that would provide elementary athletic programs guidance.
That's something that's needed, said Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative.
"I've gotten several calls and emails from doctors in town regarding injured athletes, especially at the elementary level. They're seeing knee injuries, but the injuries aren't contact injuries. They're from excessive physical activity."
A number of students participate in multiple sports. Janeway said that a student playing football would be following up that practice with optional basketball practice.
"They're getting anywhere from four or five hours of strenuous activity five days a week," Janeway said. "My concern is we have state guidelines there to protect the students from TSSAA, and that's the older athletes, the high school level. But it's more important to me that we're protecting the younger athletes because the damage done will affect them the rest of their life and keep them from playing at the high school level if they have a serious injury and they keep going and keep going."
At the high school level, schools abide by the rules of the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which provides guidance on a variety of issues, from student residence and academic eligibility to limiting the number of games, scrimmages and practices allowed. For example, the 2013-'14 TSSAA handbook states the first practice for boys and girls basketball is Monday of the week that includes Nov. 1. Prior to that, players can take part in general weight training and conditioning, and open gym, but there can be no coaching or instruction.
A similar state-wide organization, the Tennessee Middles Schools Athletic Association, offers similar rules, but Cumberland County is not a member of the association. One reason for that is the cost, estimated at $9,000 per year by committee members. But Josh Stone, 4th District representative, noted the board could model a policy after those requirements without joining the association.
"There's no point in reinventing the wheel," he said.
Director of Schools Donald Andrews said, "We need guidelines on this issue."
He has proposed creating a task force and including parents, coaches, principals, representatives of non-school athletic leagues and teams and other interested parties.
"We want an open forum where everyone can offer their input and see what is in the best interest of our students, both athletically and scholastically," he said.
In other business, the committee finalized its recommendation for a policy to govern the naming of school facilities. The proposed policy states criteria for naming nominations should include individuals who have made significant contributions to the school or school division; should not be based solely on longevity of service; and that only individuals of strong moral character will be considered.
Applications for naming nominations would be submitted during March, April, November or December and must include three references and a petition with 25 signatures. Applications will be available from the Central Services office. The board would be responsible for approving or denying facility naming requests.
"One of the things I appreciate about this is it makes it fairly difficult," said Charles Tollett, 1st District representative. "It ought to be a considerable honor. It ought to include the involvement of a number of people before it can be done."
If approved, the group requesting the naming of an undesignated area of a school will be responsible for the cost of a plaque that will be mounted at the designated area.
The policy would not affect school facilities already named in honor of individuals, such as Holder Field at Cumberland County High School, or the Bess Winningham library at South Cumberland.
The panel also approved recommendation of a policy for exchange students that would require students to submit a plan for completing their high school education in four years and a summer before they embark on a foreign exchange program.
"The principals have asked for help on this issue," explained Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability.
Though such experiences provide valuable cultural immersion for students, it can set them behind in completing their high school studies. When that happens, the state penalizes the school system on its graduation rate.
Wood explained 27 credits are required to earn a high school diploma. Options such as summer school, credit recovery, online classes or early and late bird classes are available to help students earn more than eight credits a school year.
Janet Graham, principal of Cumberland County High School, explained that many times students returning from a foreign exchange year abroad return with no record of school attendance the prior year and no credits. Even if they did return with a transcript from the foreign school, the issue becomes matching the classes up with classes offered in the state's course catalog.
"It's a wonderful experience for the students, but we need to find a way to protect ourselves," Graham said.
Tollett said such an experience offered students a fantastic advantage in life.
"It dramatically changes a person's life," he said, adding the perspective it offered to live for a time as a minority and to be immersed in another culture. "I wish there was a way we could put a value on this, like giving so many credits in multi-culture experience."
Graham estimated she had four students overseas at this time. She said it could be possible for someone to write a special course to be approved by the state that had specific requirements to be awarded a multi-culture credit.
Tollett noted there were many more options available to continue one's education than in previous years, noting online courses were available.
"The options are greater than they've ever been. Surely they can find a way to get credit without interfering with their experience," he said.
The final policy to go before the board at the September meeting is the civility policy, a new policy that outlines how members of the public are expected to comport themselves when interacting with faculty, staff or administrative personnel of the school system, and for how school personnel are expected to act, as well.
This is a policy Andrews recommended, adding such a policy had been instituted in previous school systems where he has worked and it did help to improve civility among the community.
"It goes for us, as well," Andrews said. "But it helps the staff and gives them guidelines."
The policy states school and district personnel are expected to treat each other, volunteers, parents and other members of the public with courtesy and respect. At the same time, parents and visitors are also expected to treat teachers, volunteers, administrators and other district employees with courtesy and respect. Disorderly conduct includes but not limited to fighting, abusive language in person or in written or oral communication, refusing to vacate premises or disrupting the educational environment of a school or damaging or destroying school property.
The policy provides direction for school personnel should they encounter such situations, including terminating a meeting or telephone conversation; removing the person violating the policy from school premises and limiting access to school premises following repeated policy violations.
Janeway said, "It draws a line in the sand that, you can exercise your freedom of speech, but you're going to do it in a civil way."
Recommended policies will be part of the Sept. 26 meeting of the board. Policies require two successful readings before becoming effective.
The committee also heard from parent Amy Music, who suggested the committee revisit the complaint policy and procedure to make it easier for the community to access and understand; allow parents to participate more in the resolution of a complaint; and to provide the complaint resolution in writing to the parent.
"I feel like there are things that can be done to make the process more productive," she said. "This is not very conducive to resolving issues."
The committee will also be reviewing 18-year-old enrollment in coming months following guidance from the state department of education that only the board can refuse to enroll students who are over the age of 18 in limited circumstances. The committee noted the board could only do that in a meeting, and it was not feasible to call a special meeting for each enrollment decision.
"In my opinion, I think the state has gone in the wrong direction here," Janeway said.
Other school systems are referring students to an adult high school, but Cumberland County does not have such a facility. Graham noted that there is little question of enrollment if a student has been continually enrolled in education and is transferring to the system.
"I think we have an obligation to take those students," she said. The question of whether or not to allow enrollment usually arises after a student has elected to drop out of school and then wants to return.