School board reviews handbook in special meeting
During a special meeting of the Benton School Board on Monday, the board reviewed updates and changes to the student handbook.
Assistant Superintendent Eric Saunders presented changes to the student handbook.
“I want to commend him for his work on these policies,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Skelton.
Saunders told the board the changes come from a combination of cleaning up language, local proposals and recommendations from the Arkansas School Board Association.
He said many of the changes deal with changing words and technical cleanup.
Chair of the Personnel Policy Committee Tamme Adams also spoke to bring up concerns she has received from teachers regarding some of the changes.
Saunders said a change to the absence policy would allow freshmen and sophomores to take one college and career day each semester and increase juniors and seniors to two per semester in order to give them more opportunities to be exposed to future options. Forms must be turned in and approved for the absences not to count against them.
Adams said teachers are concerned that the policy would give some students up to five
excused absences which would cost them education. She said students could tour colleges on Saturdays, breaks and during the summer.
“We want kids to look at their future options but not at the point it would sacrifice their current education,” Adams said.
Other teachers in the audience expressed concern that on top of other activities, such as sports, that take them out of the classroom, these extra days would harm students.
The board discussed changes made to policies regarding how much and what a child can charge at the cafeteria due to the recent passage of Act 428. Saunders explained the law no longer permitted alternate meals or limits on how much a student can charge.
The board was concerned how the school would recoup money lost when charges go unpaid.
Skelton told the board it is often not the lowincome
students who are charging.
The board questioned the wording on the change in the handbook that said the school would refer parents to the Department of Human Services for excessive pick-ups after 3:30 p.m.
The board members were concerned about the definition of excessive and how they can be sure the rule is equally applied. Saunders said he would go back to the committee to define a set number.
Saunders said the school’s dishonesty policy regarding plagiarism is being changed to remove the line that says no credit will be given for the assignment and adds that the student will be required to redo the assignment. He said the point is for the student to still learn and be punished for the violation.
Adams and the teachers expressed concern about the change. They felt if teachers can give credit for the redone work there will be issues of not all teachers applying it evenly. She felt some teachers
may give full credit, some half, some none and some a different percentage and then students and parents complain.
Board President Dio Vannucci said if its automatically no credit students will not actually redo the assignment.
Adams said they would like to see a more specific policy.
Saunders said the changes to the drug and alcohol policy clean up and simplify the language. It removes first and second offense and simply lays out the possible consequences for violations.
Adams said she feels the change leaves it too open and is concerned the consequences could be applied unevenly.
Due to changes in the law, the handbook had to be updated allowing students who are suspended or expelled to still receive education and engagement.
Adams was concerned about what constitutes engagement.
The board discussed that part of that depends on if a child has access to a computer and the internet. Saunders said they were trying to balance between offering the children what they need and not putting excessive work on teachers to prepare work for children who will be out.
The handbook also clarified consequences for fighting. Saunders said it allows for flexibility between a fight between kindergarteners and a fist fight between seniors.
Adams said the teachers are concerned that could open up the consequences to bias.
The board told her that this is an area where they have to trust administrators to do what is right.
“You can’t regulate every possible scenario,” said Board Member
Adams was also concerned about rules that say a student cannot be denied honor graduate status due to having to use alternate education for excessive absences. She said honor graduates should be honorable in every way.
She said the teachers also want to have more specific rules on what absences could be approved that would allow students to make up important tests.
“A lot of this comes from having a districtwide handbook,” she said.
Other changes discussed included:
•Clarifying proof of residence.
•Clarifying absences and when to make reports on absences.
•Replacing CAPS with Student Success Plans.
•Changes to check-out procedures.
•Removing school visitor rules for faculty.
•Moving before and after school procedures to building procedures .
•Establishing clear consequences for skipping detention.
•Adding to the dress code that straps on tops should be no less than three fingers wide and shorts must be as long as the tips of a student’s fingers
•Adding theft of personal property and possession of drug paraphernalia to prohibited conduct.
Saunders plans to make the proposed changes and present the handbook at the July 8 meeting of the Benton School Board.
Other actions and discussions of the board during the special meeting will be in Wednesday’s edition of The Saline Courier.