Knife-carriers may get cut some slack

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Students can bring a knife to school without penalty - if they turn it over to the administration as soon as they realize their mistake.

This is the policy that the school board's policy committee decided to recommend for adoption by the school board.

The three school resource officers supplied to the high schools by the Marshall County Sheriff's department attended the meeting and provided valuable feedback to the policy committee at its meeting last Thursday.

"Seventy-five percent of kids at Cornersville have brought a knife to school at some time," said Shane Chapman, the SRO at Cornersville High School. "It's a rural community: they have a knife for cutting hay strings, or whatever," he explained.

When the full school board met in November, they passed a number of policies that the committee had worked on, but asked for more study of others.

At that November meeting, Dr. Stan Curtis, Director of Schools, clarified for the board that because school officials are "in loco parentis" (in place of a parent) it is legal for them to search and question students. They can do this if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the student is in possession of forbidden items, in contrast to the police who have to have "probable cause" before they can do a search.

The committee spent some time last week discussing whether students could be questioned without a parent or guardian present. They agreed to retain the phrase "attempt to contact a parent" rather than change it to "shall contact" which could lead to long delays if parents were unavailable.

Signs are supposed to be posted in the parking lots and near the lockers, stating that vehicles and lockers are subject to search, and it was discovered that Forrest High School does not have any signs in place.

"That must be taken care of," said Curtis. "Especially if it is board policy; there's no point in having policies if we don't follow them."

School board chairman Ann Tears brought up the next policy question, regarding students' use of cell phones. The policy is that cell phones and other "personal communication devices" are not to be used at school or while on the school buses. The current punishment for infraction is suspension, in-school or out of school, depending on the number of times the student has been caught.

"I'm hearing from schools that they're really having trouble with this - it's hard to get the kids to pay attention," said Tears. "We need some strong disciplinary actions."

Curtis agreed, adding that the biggest issues were test security and the distribution of inappropriate pictures. He recommended the policy that was in place when he was principal of Hampshire Unit School: the first time a student was caught using a cell phone, the phone was confiscated for two weeks; the second time, four weeks; the third time, the phone was taken away for the rest of the school year. Curtis noted that he didn't remember one time in three years that a phone was confiscated for more than four weeks.

Assistant director Roy Dukes pointed out that at the up-coming ACT test on April 22 one of the rules is no cell phones in the classroom. One student with a phone in the test area could invalidate the results for the whole room, Dukes said. "It's very important for the students to understand this," he said.

The committee voted 4 to 1 to recommend the Maury County School Systems cell phone policy as outlined by Curtis. Curt Denton was the dissenting vote, saying, "I worry we're punishing the parents - they're the ones that pay the (cell phone) bills."

The committee postponed until their next meeting a full discussion of their policy regarding the first offence of drinking or possessing alcohol at school, or coming to school drunk. They wanted to be sure to build some language into the policy that mandated the student got counseling as well as punishment, but they agreed that a second alcohol offence should be a "zero-tolerance" one.

"I've heard them say, 'we can drink and go to alternative school for 20 days; just don't bring your weed or you're gone,'" reported Deputy Eli Stuard, the Forrest SRO.

"Should we consider alternative school until the violator has completed counseling?" asked Chapman, the Cornersville SRO.

"Judge Bowden would uphold it if it was in the policy," said Stuard.

The committee agreed to study it further at another meeting.