AMITE — A Tangipahoa Parish School Board committee will consider possible changes to the district’s suspension and expulsion policies after the board’s newest member said she is concerned that administrators have been given “a blank check” to put black children out of school.
Board member Betty C. Robinson, who was elected in October to fill the unexpired term of resigned member Eric Dangerfield, requested the issue be considered by the board’s Instructional Accountability and Support Committee.
Osa Betts Williams, a member of the parish branch of the NAACP, said the district’s policies “need to be drastically changed, and they need to be changed now.”
“We know the highest percentage (of students suspended or expelled) are among our African-American males,” Williams said. “We have documentation to show that. And that needs to change. We need to keep our children in school.”
Williams said students need to be allowed “to present themselves as innocent before they are adjudged guilty,” and she stressed that a variety of approaches should be used, rather than a “one size fits all” approach.
Superintendent Mark Kolwe said after the meeting that the district’s policies, which closely track state laws on the subject, already give administrators flexibility and latitude in ruling on disciplinary cases.
Kolwe said all district employees went through sensitivity training a few years ago and are given refresher courses in addition to the training workshops principals attend.
In every case of possible disciplinary action, students and their parents are given an opportunity to respond to the administrator’s case, he said.
Kolwe suggested that Robinson, being new to the board, might not be familiar with the processes already in place.
In other business, the board voted to present parents and teachers with four options for the 2016-17 school calendar.
Three of the options would vary little from the current calendar, start Aug. 11 or 15 and end before Memorial Day, while a fourth option would have classes begin the day after Labor Day and end in mid-June.
The four options will be put on the district’s website for further input from parents, teachers and other stakeholders. The board will make a final decision on the calendar in February, President Brett Duncan said.
The options are the result of a movement, begun by a parents group in July, to push back the start date of school to avoid having children on buses and playgrounds during the peak August heat.
The online petition effort received support from more than 5,000 people both in the parish and across the state, but it also met with resistance from some of the parish’s teachers and employees who were concerned about the reduction of holidays and a late end-date that could follow a calendar change.
Candace Morgan, a Tangipahoa Parish teacher, told the board Tuesday that students need those holiday breaks as much as teachers do.
“The kids are tired,” Morgan said. “They get overloaded. We’re prepping them for tests that we’ve pushed down their throats from day one.”
Major calendar changes also would affect employee pay cycles, Kolwe said.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.