The policy committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education wants more information about zero tolerance offenses before it approves recommended policy changes.

Bo Magnusson, safety and security supervisor, said, “You can’t list everything. There will always be something. If we don’t pigeonhole ourselves, we can use good judgment on a case-by-case basis.”

Zero tolerance offenses are determined by state and federal law and require the school system to expel students from the regular school program for one calendar year. 

Those offenses are:

•bringing to school or being in unauthorized possession of a firearm on school property

•unlawful possession of any drug, including any controlled substance, controlled substance analogue, or legend drug, on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event

•aggravated assault

•assault that results in bodily injury to a teacher, principal, administrator or other school employee or school resource officer.

“They don’t say anything about dangerous weapons, like a knife,” Anita Hale, 4th District representative, said. “Razorblades and box cutters were things I had to deal with as a teacher.”

Tony Brock, 5th District representative, said other policies addressed weapons specifically.

BOE Attorney Earl Patton said the laws establishing zero tolerance offenses specifically states possession of a firearm.

“We don’t have any discretion over the punishment. If they come to school with a firearm, it’s one year. Period,” he said.

While the zero tolerance policy doesn’t specify knives, policy 6.316, suspension/expulsion/remand, does say possession of a weapon such as a knife, would be grounds for suspension or expulsion. That policy allows a principal to suspend a student from attendance at school and all school activities “based on the severity of the offenses.”

Teresa Boston, 8th District representative, said the policy also doesn’t include electronic threats, which are part of the current policy.

Magnusson said there had been instances in other school systems where something was said through an electronic forum, but the threat wasn’t as serious as threats made in person.

“Because it was electronic, it was zero tolerance. Yet, we could have a physical threat, and that’s not necessarily zero-tolerance. It created an environment to not allow considering the totality of the circumstances,” he told the committee.

“This provides flexibility.”

Boston asked Patton to ensure the proposed policy follows the intent of laws and changes in laws. The policy committee recommended the changes to the zero tolerance policy pending his report to the full board at the Sept. 24 meeting.

Brock questioned if policy 6.316, suspension/expulsion/remand, should state students are suspended from “all” school activities, suggesting stating suspend from “any” school activities would provide more discretion for principals.

“If you suspend a student, according to this, does that mean they can’t go to graduation?” Brock asked.

Patton said he believed the policy would allow principals to use their discretion, citing the use of “may” in the statement.

Stephanie Barnes, principal of the alternative school housed on the campus of The Phoenix School, said students remanded to alternative school were not allowed to return to any other school campus.

“They don’t get to go to any school function, at all,” she said. “It has meant that students who are remanded are not allowed to walk the graduation line.”

Barnes said there could be situations where discretion is in order.

“Just because a student messed up in one arena, give them a chance to redeem themselves in another arena,” she said. 

The policy covers in-school suspensions longer than five days, requiring a plan for improving student behavior, and longer than 10 days, allowing parents or guardians to appeal the decision. 

Alternative School Programs, policy 6.319, states students suspended or expelled from regular school programs can be placed in a separate school program when suspended for 10 days or more, if space is available. This option is not available to students who have committed zero tolerance offenses. 

Boston said the revised policy needed to protect the appeal process.

“Prior to this, if the DHA made a ruling and the parents felt it was unfair, they had provisions to appeal that to the board,” she said. “Are we removing that appeal procedure? I don’t see it in here anywhere else. Is that something that we want to do?”

Jane Franklin, administrative assistant, said the DHA policy would be included in the October policy meeting. 

The panel voted to table action on the suspension/expulsion/remand policy until October and evaluate it in conjunction with the DHA policy.

The committee did approve changes to the following policies:

•College Level Courses, policy 4.205, to simplify the introduction, stating students can take college-level courses for college and high school credit. Courses count toward grade point average and class valedictorian or salutatorian. Middle college, which allows high school students to earn an associate degree while enrolled in high school, does not go toward valedictorian or salutatorian determinations

•Family Life Education, policy 4.213, to include instruction on the prevention of dating violence in family life education

•Alternative School Programs, policy 6.319, to include reasons for removal from alternative school or additional offenses during the student’s suspension or expulsion period

•Reporting Child Abuse, policy 6.409, requires a child abuse coordinator and alternate child abuse coordinator be appointed at each school, to ensure school personnel complete annual training in child abuse identification and prevention. Personnel who have reason to suspect child abuse, sexual abuse or neglect are required to report that to the coordinator, the Department of Children’s Services and law enforcement

 

 

 

 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.