OCS talks discipline of athletes

Published 12:49 am Friday, August 25, 2017

Allegations of theft prompt meeting

The Opp Board of Education on Thursday discussed whether there needed to be definitive consequences for those who participate in extracurricular activities when they are involved in certain offenses multiple times.

The board met in a special-called meeting after several student-athletes faced consequences for allegedly stealing from classrooms.

Board President William Hines started the dialogue asking for clarification about how students are placed in alternative schools and how it affects sports participation.

Hines was asking specifically how it is determined how many days of alternative school, suspension or expulsion a student receives.

Superintendent Michael Smithart explained that the student handbook gives choices up to 45 days or a minimum of 45 days depending on the infraction.

“In a school setting, there is not a substitute for administrative discretion,” he said.

Smithart explained that if a student is involved in extra curricular activities and is in alternative school, he or she is not allowed to participate in the activity.

They also discussed class III violations which include burglary of school property as well as stealing, larceny and grand theft among other serious infractions.

The handbook says that disciplinary actions for class III offenses will be suspension and/or recommendation of expulsion by the principal. Law enforcement is also contacted.

Board member Scotty Short expressed his concern about athletes who are repeat offenders.

“Are they still eligible for sports no matter what,” he asked. Smithart said that in situations that warrant a felony, they are immediately suspended.

Additionally, it was also determined that coaches generally have their own rules with dealing with players who violate the school code of conduct.

“It depends on the organization or the sport,” Smithart said. “We have nothing that defines the second alternative placement for them to be done with sports.”

Short was a proponent of setting clear boundaries to show students that if they mess up there are consequences.

“If they are in alternative school a second time, I don’t think they should be playing sports,” he said.

Board member Walter Burgess asked why Short felt that way.

“I think we need discipline,” Short said.

Burgess had a different perspective.

“I grew up and learned discipline from my coach,” he said.

Burgess praised his English teacher for what she taught him about things such as the Canterbury Tales, but said that she didn’t reach him in the discipline area.

“I don’t understand, especially in our culture when some students are not effectively reached outside of a football field or basketball court,” he said. “Coaches lay down the law. I can’t agree.”

Short said that he believed “right is right and wrong is wrong.”

Burgess wanted to know why there wasn’t an uproar in May when students broke into the middle school concession stand.

“Why are these three or four different?” he asked.

Short said he wasn’t aware of the middle school incident and that he wasn’t here then.

Short took office in November 2016.

Smithart said of the students, two students were punished differently due to the circumstances.

One had previously gone to alternative school.

Board member Lori Stanfield said she agrees that she sets boundaries at home for her daughter and she knows that if she doesn’t obey the rules that certain things will happen. She also knows that if she gets in trouble at school that she will also get in trouble at home.

“This is how it ought to be,” she said.

Still, Stanfield said he understands that there are a lot of children who don’t have a father at home or a mother who wants them.

“I’m afraid if we make this so tight,” she said. “We have a variety of people here. Our principals see them day in and day out. I’d hate to see someone who, if you took football away from them, would find a life in jail. I don’t think it should be so tight that you take the discretion away.”

Short said he would like to see the second offense more harsh.

Currently the principals make the recommendation and Smithart makes the final decision.

Smithart said he could see both sides, but cautioned the board about making blanket rules.

“We need to be careful painting with too broad of a brush,” he said. “Or you run the chance of meeting again going, ‘I don’t know if it’s right.’”

Smithart said if he was going to make a mistake, it was going to be on the side of the student.

“For 26 years, I’ve come to work every day, asking, ‘What can I do to help a kid? What does that kid need? Some need us a lot more than we need them.”

The board later discussed the possibility of having all extra curricular groups come up with rules for students to follow in order to participate or a code of conduct for extracurricular.

Some sports already have these in place, Smithart said.

For example, Coach Michael Cassady has a rule that if he sees a photo of a player with a beer in his hand he’s suspended for a number of games.

The board took no action on changing the code of conduct, but asked Smithart to gather some information about what other school systems are doing to address similar issues.