BOE hears parent’s concern

Published 11:59 pm Monday, April 20, 2009

Approximately 16 parents attended Monday’s meeting of the Andalusia Board of Education to voice their concerns with the student handbook, and specifically its procedures that deal with students who bring weapons to school.

JoAnn Bulger, a mother with a student at AES, served as the primary spokesperson for the parents. She brought forth her concerns, stating that the questions about the handbook procedures stem from an incident at the elementary school earlier this year.

In that incident, a student brought a knife to school and allegedly threatened another student with it. At the time, the student was placed on suspension, pending further action. Bulger’s child was not directly threatened, but was familiar with the incident, she previously told The Star-News.

“I should have read the handbook more closely, and that is my fault,” she said. “It should not have taken an incident like this to make me open the handbook. Like so many parents, I just signed the form saying I had read it, but then never even looked at a page.”

Bulger spoke for about 20 minutes. She argued that the existing policy dealing with incidents of this nature — classified in the handbook as “Class III offenses” — is too general.

“There is language that could be placed in the handbook to make it more clear about what should be done in instances like this,” Bulger said. “I don’t want a zero-tolerance policy. I just think the handbook is outdated and too general.”

The language in the Andalusia City Schools’ code of conduct states: “In the event that a student has committed a Class III offense, an administrative hearing (involving the superintendent, parent, principal (or designee) and the student) will be necessary to determine the future of the student … The hearing could result in the student’s being suspended additional days, placed in the alternative school or expulsion from school for up to a year.”

Bulger said she had researched other school systems’ policies for similar incidents, and found their codes of conduct to be less open to question.

“There are laws that protect the children’s privacy, and they should be there,” she said. “I’m not asking you to take those privacy laws away. But because of the loosely worded code, and because of those privacy laws, the victims and the children involved in the incidents have absolutely no rights. My rights as a parent are taken away because of the loosely written code of conduct and because of the privacy laws.

“That’s nobody’s fault; I have no one to blame for that. Like I said, the handbook has probably been the same for nine years … but it needs to be brought up to date.”

Bulger said the policy in the other systems’ handbooks that she researched, including Mobile City Schools and Dothan City Schools, call for immediate recommendations for expulsion immediately following any incident involving a weapon at school.

“There are recommendations of expulsions that can be modified on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “An expulsion has to go through the school board, which gets more people involved. And in my opinion, the more people involved and the more people asking questions, that’s better for everyone — the child who committed the offense and the victims.”

Bulger said her main problem is that she has no way of knowing if the suspended student is back in school, or not.

ACS attorney Bill Alverson pointed out to Bulger that changing the student handbook would not change the privacy laws in effect.

“I know you want to know results and what’s happening,” he said. “But none of these policies address that, and can’t address that because of student privacy laws.”

“Every (other school system) policy that we’ve just reviewed, they all provide for a case-by-case basis,” he said. “That means that every case could be reversed and the child could be returned to school, and again you would not be notified. The end result would still ultimately be the same, even if the policy is more ‘reader friendly.’”

Bulger again said she would be in favor of a policy that would first result in expulsion, then examine whether that student should be readmitted, because any expulsion would have the board members required to become involved.

“That’s not necessarily the case,” Alverson said. “One of the policies you just showed us actually puts it to one person (the superintendent) to make the ultimate decision, and I believe that was one of the issues you had disfavor with (in this case).”

Board member Joe Nix told Bulger that the board would consider her concerns when it looks at the student handbook in its annual review prior to the start of the next school year.

“My recommendation is that we take these comments on advisement, and this board assemble again at a later date and decide how we’re going to disclose this matter,” he said.