Policies on fighting, cell phones debated

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A change in the punishment for fighting at school is being recommended to the school board by its policy committee.

Committee members are recommending that the punishment for fighting be suspension for the first offence. The second occasion of fighting will result in transfer to the alternative school.

It was the only decision the committee reached Monday night.

The decision is in line with a recommendation Cornersville High School principal Bob Edens made at an earlier meeting.

Edens also wanted "more teeth" in the school system's cell phone policy, but committee members could not decided how to achieve this.

"It's an emotional topic for sure," said Donnie Moses.

The cell phone policy has prompted calls from parents to school officials.

"They don't like the confiscation part," committee chairwoman Ann Tears said. "There's got to be a better way."

Schools director Roy Dukes has "told the principals to ... look at what's done in surrounding counties," he said.

A quick return policy might help, according to Moses.

"My biggest concern is that it will end up being a legal hassle," he said. "There would be no issue if the phone was confiscated during the day and released at night."

Students' phones are taken up before standardized tests like the ACT and TCAP are administered, but it would be too much work to do this every day, Lewisburg Middle School teacher Patty Hill said.

Hill told the committee one situation she had heard about: students planned to fight, and other pupils had been lined up to video the fight with their cell phones.

"Let's live with what we've got until we can do better," Moses said. "Edens was asking for more 'teeth.'"

"What are the teeth - that's the question," Tears said, urging Dukes to talk to the principals and ask what authority or consequences they want.

Students could be punished for disturbing the class with their cell phone, without confiscating the phone, Harvey Jones remarked, and Moses closed the discussion by conceding that confiscation "may be the best route if it will hold up in court."

The policy on testing programs was on the agenda. Tears told her committee members she had been advised by Tennessee School Board Association attorney Joel Moseley to leave it alone for now because "the state legislature has not done its part." Student test scores will form a part of teachers' evaluations in the First to the Top program, but, according to Tears, Moseley told her this requirement might even be pushed back a year.

The committee may be able to revisit this policy at its next meeting, scheduled for late January.