BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County School System is considering some changes to the Zero Tolerance Policy that would crack down on drug and alcohol use.
The school system's Policy Committee met on Wednesday to review and update dozens of policies. Most were minor changes to update references to state law or to cross-reference the policy to applicable procedures.
On a few policies, however, the committee recommended more substantial changes, including language changes to the Zero Tolerance Offenses Policy.
Currently, the system automatically expels students for no less than one year for several specific offenses, including wielding weapons and dangerous instruments, committing battery, making a bomb threat, and possessing drugs or alcohol.
Wednesday's proposed change will now make it a zero-tolerance offense to not only possess these items, but also to use or to come to school under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If approved on two readings by the Greene County Board of Education, the language change would read as follows:
"In accordance with state law, any student who unlawfully possesses, uses or is under the influence of any drug including any controlled substance, alcohol or legend drug, or drug paraphernalia shall be expelled for a period of not less than one calendar year.
"The director of schools shall have the authority to modify this expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis."
The original recommendation for the policy change from Assistant Director Dr. Judy Phillips did not include the phrase "under the influence of," but Board Chairman Roger Jones made this recommendation during the committee meeting.
The committee agreed, and the proposed language will be submitted to the board during their March meeting.
Other notable policy changes will include those to the Emergency Preparedness Plan and to Board Committees.
The committee last studied the Emergency Preparedness Plan policy in February and sent a recommendation to the board that included the statement, "In the event of any threats to safety, students may be retained at school at the discretion of school officials."
This statement prompted some concern when it appeared before the Board of Education, however.
Members Kathy Austin and Deborah Johnson suggested that this statement seemed to "take away parental rights."
Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk agreed to take the policy back to the committee for further revision and, on Wednesday, proposed the following change:
"In the event that weather conditions prohibit safe travel, buses will not run, and students will be retained at school and released to an adult with authority to pick the child up.
"Should circumstances require a school lockdown for safety reasons, the authority on site designated as the incident commander will make decisions regarding student admission or dismissal."
The committee and attending board members all responded positively to this change.
"I think it's a good rewording," Johnson said.
The Board Committees Policy underwent significant changes after debate in numerous board workshops.
Kirk explained on Wednesday that the change resulted from the fact that the policy had conflicting language about standing committees. Once the board began to study the committees, they noted that many do not even meet.
In a divided vote, the board approved having only four "standing committees" -- policy, bid, curriculum and long-range planning, on each of which three board members will serve.
Austin and Johnson were the only board members to oppose this change. They expressed their desire to serve on, and have a vote in, every committee.
The language of the policy presented on Wednesday reflected the majority vote of the board, but did not include the "three member" language.
Austin requested that this be added, while Johnson commented on the inclusion of long-range planning as one of the standing committees.
"Long-range planning is so important. It's what the board does," she said. "Long-range is so large and so encompassing."
She said that this responsibility is best managed by the full board.
Jones explained that the committee will only serve to gather information and recommendations for the full board to consider in workshops.
He requested that Kirk put in bold-typeface the word "advisory" in policy where it notes that decisions cannot be made in committees, since the committees have only an advisory role.
Kirk also explained that the development of a long-range committee has been her goal since she first took her position as director. She also noted that it is a board initiative.