By STEVEN NALLEY
The Oktibbeha County School District Board of Directors unanimously approved three policy changes at its meeting Thursday, two of which brought the district’s policies into compliance with state policies.
Through these revisions, the district will no longer take a Carnegie unit away from a student if he or she misses a class more than 20 times, so long as the student passes the class. It will also no longer use parent care as an option for student placement or give one unexcused absence to a student who is late to class three times. Finally, the district has revised its response to violations of its cellular phone policy, calling parents before resorting to in-school suspensions.
OCSD Superintendent James Covington said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood advised the OCSD and other schools that even if a student misses more than 20 days of a class, that does not mean the district can deny the student the class’s Carnegie unit.
“If the child has passed the course, we’ve got to give them credit, no matter how many days they miss,” Covington said.
Regarding tardies and unexcused absences, Covington said there was confusion as to which day would be marked as an unexcused absence if a student were late on three different days.
In the context of Thursday’s board decision, Covington said, parent care refers to students removed from school for behavioral reasons and placed under their parents’ care until a resolution can be made. He said the state office of accreditation has told the school district students can only be removed from school through a suspension — either in school or out of school — or through expulsion.
Covington said the new cell phone policy inverts the infraction responses the district previously had in place. Until now, he said, district schools have responded to first infractions with an in-school suspension and called parents after the second infractions.
“Hopefully, we can let the parent come get (the cell phone) first and then conference with the parent, and then the kid doesn’t do it again the next time,” Covington said. “Maybe the parent will do enough that the kid doesn’t have to go to (in-school suspension).”
When the cell phone policy was discussed, board member Cynthia Ward alluded to a different change to cell phone policy not on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, which she said Covington had brought up in July. Covington said he was interested in returning to this possibility at a later meeting.
“What we were talking about is looking into a junior Crimestoppers program,” Covington said after the meeting. “It is a ... program where students have use of cell phones (to report crimes). If we decide to implement that Crimestoppers initiative, then we will have to revisit that cell phone (policy).”
Covington said students are currently not allowed to bring cell phones to school. Ward said while she does not want students texting or playing games during class, she does support students’ responsible use of cell phones in emergency circumstances. Multiple college and high school campuses have had students bring guns to school, she said, and cell phone use could prevent violent outbreaks.
“If a gunman is in one class, maybe someone in the next class can text 911,” Ward said. “We just need to have our students have a way to reach outside the school. I just hope we will be able to revisit that (Crimestoppers) policy and implement it. I think the kids will step up to the challenge.”