The Webster Parish School Board tackled policy issues Monday they hope will alleviate problems in three areas: cell phones in schools, transportation and graduation.
Cellphones in schools is the hottest topic, Child Welfare Supervisor Kevin Washington said.
In January, the discipline committee met to discuss changing the cellphone policy to recognize the role technology plays in students’ lives.
“It was the consensus of the discipline committee that this is a policy that we could live with, with those fines,” he said. “Those fines would go toward other incentives for positive things around the school.”
The recommendation that went before the board reflects that recognition in that this coming school year, students will be allowed to have their cell phones at school, but it must not be in use or operated during school hours. To be clear, Washington said if the phone is on, it is in operation.
This extends to extracurricular school activities, namely athletics.
Now, instead of staff having to keep up with phones all year long, the student will have to pay a fine to get it back.
According to the new policy, on the first offense, the student will lose the phone and the parent may come pick it up. The second offense will be a $15 fine and the phone is kept until the parent picks it up. The third offense is a $25 fine and the phone is kept until a parent picks it up. On the fourth offense, the school will keep the phone until the end of the school year.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls says allowing students to have their phones is for safety reasons, because many students walk home from school. Having their phones on them allows them to check in with their parents to let them know they got home safely.
Another issue is that following athletic events, it will allow students to call parents if practice ends early or if it lasts longer than expected. By the same token, it will allow students to do the same following ballgames.
Students will not be allowed to have their phones during testing periods, such as end of course testing or state testing.
“EOC testing, ACT testing, to have it in the test environment, those phones will be gone,” Washington said. “All those could be rendered invalid if you’re using a cellphone in the test environment. You can’t even bring them. The cellphone is more than just a phone. You can do all kinds of stuff with a cellphone.”
Rawls says with transportation, there has been a real issue with parents becoming irate when a bus driver cannot drop off their child at a different location than where they were picked up.
The example he gave, is a 5-year-old child is picked up from her home and her mother wants her dropped off at “Aunt Suzie’s” five blocks away. They can’t do that, he said, because if they did it for one, they would have to do it for all. It would add time to the bus route, and in the system, they physically cannot change the destination for drop off.
Transportation supervisor Buster Flowers says this does not apply to transfers. It is still possible for a student to transfer from one bus to another if they need to go to another location other than the pickup point.
State law also dictates that if a child is dropped off at a day care, it must be a licensed day care. Even if it’s a relative’s house, if the bus driver drops off more than three children at that relative’s it could be considered an unlicensed day care.
Graduation has been another sticking point, Rawls says, by the number of phone calls asking if their child can participate in graduation ceremonies without having met the requirements to do so. It might be a situation where a student only needs four hours in order to graduate and would complete coursework in June. If that’s the case, policy dictates that student walk with the next graduating class.
However, he says he’s getting phone calls from parents that won’t take no for an answer.
Webster Parish does not have a policy set in place other than the one by the state and he asked the board to set one that in effect states, “If students do not meet the requirements to graduate, they cannot graduate.”
Washington says it was tweaked and separated into two policies, one for graduation requirements and one for graduation exercises. The graduation requirements policy was tweaked to update some language, and the graduation exercises was added stating, “The Webster Parish School Board shall not allow any student to participate in commencement exercises until he/she has successfully completed all graduation requirements as prescribed by BESE.”
In other school news, the board approved installation of a new roof for North Webster Junior High School by John Gibbs Roof Systems, Inc., for $39,211, using he Sarepta Maintenance Fund.
Also, North Webster High School Assistant Principal Chris Brooks resigned, and the board gave their nod to allow Rawls to advertise for the position.
The next meeting will be at 6 p.m., Monday, Aug. 15, in the board meeting room at Central Office, located at 1442 Sheppard Street. A finance committee meeting will be at 5 p.m. before the monthly meeting.