By Joel Phelps
In a lengthy meeting the Arkadelphia Board of Education on Tuesday discussed at length the handbook that students are expected to obey.
Principals at each of Arkadelphia Public School’s four campuses addressed the school board, spelling out the minimum and maximum punishments for each level of seriousness of misconduct. The revised student handbook will, for the most part, be kept as a digital file and will apply to K-12 students as opposed to the district maintaining separate handbooks for each campus.
Principals fielded questions from school board members on topics ranging from the difference between harassment and bullying, dress code violations, students’ freedom of political expression, cell phone usage and the implementation of a drug dog.
Board member Jeff Root asked for an explanation on the difference between harassment and bullying. “When I think of bullying, I think of ongoing [harassment],” said Mary Snowden, principal at Peake Elementary School, as she discussed the first tier of student misconduct. While one student might mess with another’s hair and get called out for it, that would be harassment. If that same student repeats the behavior so that it disrupts the victim student(s), it becomes bullying.
The student dress code, the board was told, remains vague because each violation is different (i.e., the length of shorts can not be measured via a universal method because some students have long arms and short legs, etc.). Arkadelphia High School Principal Callie Hunley told board members her overall aim was to keep students in class and, generally speaking, many dress code violations are the result of a student changing clothes between home and the school to test the limits of the rules. She based her speculation on her experience that most students who are called out of class because of their clothing typically have a change of clothes in their backpack.
Referencing a recent citizen complaint to the school board about students with political materials, veteran board member Kenneth Harris asked if anything in the handbook had been changed to reflect the district’s stance. He was told that students have the right to express their political stances and opinions so long as it is not disruptive to the educational process. Teachers, on the other hand, do not have that right and are not allowed to distribute any sort of political materials on campus or in their professional capacity.
Dewayne Ward, the Arkadelphia Police Department officer assigned to AHS as its school resource officer, has reportedly gained access to a K-9 capable of detecting drugs. The board was informed that the dog will be used if drugs are suspected on campus.
Hunley also reported that cell phone usage will continue to be banned in an effort to steer students away from the distraction and to thrust them toward engagement in the classroom lesson.
Board president Blake Bell said he wanted “no grey areas” in the allowable punishments, especially when it comes to the more serious infractions. He said he wanted bullet-point punishments for the first, second and third offenses so that students wouldn’t test the language of the handbook.
Final approval of the handbooks was tabled until more language is added to include more specific punishments for infractions.
Arkadelphia Schools start school year with $26M
The school district will start the 2022-23 school year with a “very strong” budget of $26.7 million, an increase of $364,000 compared to last year, according to Tammy Barger, the district’s business manager. Barger noted that $1.9 million of that will be moved to the Building Fund (the state only allows the district to allocate 20 percent from its revenue).
The district will have to increase its budgeted fuel expenditures because of record-high diesel costs, Barger said. Also, she recommended the board start a “replacement cycle” of its decades-old maintenance vehicle fleet.
No more free school lunches
Following two years of a federal action that allowed free school lunches for students across the nation, students who are not eligible to receive free or reduced meals will be expected to pay up beginning this school year. The Arkadelphia school board hopes to convey this message to parents whose children are expected to pay for breakfast and lunch at the following prices:
Breakfast: $1.85 (all campuses)
Lunch: $2.45 (elementary grades)
$2.65 (secondary grades)
*The prices above do not reflect reduced lunch or breakfast prices*
Regardless of whether a student pays for a meal, the school district is required to feed every student. Bell said he expects the district will have food expenditures for students who don’t qualify for free or reduced meals but yet receive meals. He said he doesn’t want those students to be singled out, and hopes a local business will help the district offset the cost associated with providing meals to those students until parents get the message.
Board OK’s purchase of AP textbooks
The school board approved the purchase of $27,000 in textbooks for Advanced Placement social studies classes at AHS. The latest edition of the textbook is required in AP classes, said Jeanette Turner, director of curriculum and instruction. Zone 1 board member Matt Johnson asked how long the textbooks would be considered relevant to the AP courses; Turner replied they would be acceptable for about six years.
The board voiced approval of disclosures with two businesses whose owners are spouses of district employees. The spouse of Vince Herron, technology technician, operates Baba’s Ever Afters, which personalizes awards and student apparel for student groups. Goza Middle School teacher Kelly Rogers’s husband Chad, who operates Rogers Auto and Equipment Repair, works on some of the district’s older-model maintenance vehicles. It was noted during the meeting that the district had not done any business with either vendor this past school year.
The school board also approved an annual report of the Child Internet Protection Act to continue receiving federal funding for internet utilities.
Arkadelphia Schools new hires
Following a 20-minute executive session to discuss employment, the school board reconvened in public to announce and approve the following faculty recommendations:
Tisha Hunter, assistant principal, Goza
Anthony Jenkins, teacher/coach, Goza
Jason Jones, interim athletic director (part-time)
Mandy Newman, from Goza PE teacher/coach to Peake teacher/coach
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