Policy changes OK’d

Published 1:14 am Thursday, August 18, 2011

With the start of the 2011-2012 school year a little more than a week away, the Beaufort County Board of Education on Tuesday gave fast-track approval to several policy changes so they could be in place by the start of the new school year Aug. 25.
The policies approved by board members include those protecting athletes from injuries caused by concussions, governing the use of cellphones by students and governing school-cafeteria procedures.
The board usually gives the public and school faculty and staff 30 days to review policy changes under consideration by the board, but because of time constraints chose to enact the changes without the usual review, school leaders said.
Most of the policy changes are “the direct result of legislation passed by the General Assembly so late in the session” or budget cuts approved by state lawmakers, according to board Chairman Robert Belcher.
“It will not be this board’s policy to suspend the rules very often,” he said.

Concussion testing

With testing of some student-athletes under way in some of the county’s schools, the board unanimously approved a policy that requires athletes in many sports to take screening tests that will help diagnose concussions.
The policy requires baseline testing for athletes who participate in sports identified as “collision” and “contact,” including baseball, basketball, cheerleading, football, softball and others.
Student-athletes participating in designated sports will be required to take a computerized test offered by Concussion Vital Signs of Morrisville before they can play, according to the plan before the board.
If an athlete is believed to have suffered a head injury in competition, that athlete will be required to take another test that can be used by doctors to help determine the severity of the injury and when the injury has fully healed, according to Patrick Abele, executive director for learning services for Beaufort County Schools.
The policy also requires all athletic staff — including coaches, first responders and athletic directors — to complete an online training course offered by the Centers of Disease Control.
The new policy also includes requirements enacted by the N.C. Legislature this year in the Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act that requires public high schools and middle schools to provide education on concussion awareness to student-athletes, parents, coaches, volunteers and first responders.
As required by the new law, players who exhibit signs of a concussion will be removed from play or practice and not return until being cleared by a medical professional.

Child-nutrition policy

The board unanimously approved a policy change effective with the start of the new school year that no longer penalizes students who owe money for meals eaten at school cafeterias.
Under the previous policy, students with outstanding balances owed for meals were taken out of the cafeteria line at some schools and given alternate meals until the balances were paid. That alternate meal at some schools consisted of a grilled-cheese sandwich and a glass of water or milk, according to information given to board members.
That practice had come under fire recently from some board members who said it was embarrassing to children and unfair to penalize them because of failure by their parents to pay for school meals.
Under the new policy, students will be allowed to eat the meals of their choice and school principals will be responsible for collecting money owed on delinquent accounts. Any unpaid cafeteria charges at the end of the year will be deducted from the school’s discretionary funds.
As a result of cuts in state funds that allowed most kindergarten children to be eligible for a free breakfast, some kindergarten students will now be required to pay for those breakfasts, under the policy change approved by the board.
Students who qualify under income guidelines for free and reduced lunches will continue to receive free breakfasts, but those who do not meet income guidelines will have to pay for breakfasts, according to the new policy.

Cellphone use

The board approved by a 6-2 vote, with one abstention, a policy intended to restrict the use of cellphones and other wireless communication devices by students during school hours.
Belcher and board member Mike Isbell cast dissenting votes. Board member Teressa Banks voted “present.”
The new policy allows students to have those devices while at school, but it prohibits those devices from being “activated, used, displayed or visible during the instructional day.”
Board members said the change was needed to give consistency to the use cellphones at all public schools in the county.
In previous years, students were allowed to use their cellphones or send text messages between classes, in school cafeterias or in classrooms after they completed their schoolwork. At other schools, principals confiscated cellphones for the school day if students were found to be using the devices during school hours.
The new policy allows principals to allow individual students to use their cellphones “when there is a reasonable need for such communication” and teachers and principals to authorize cellphone use “for instructional purposes, provided that they supervise the students during such use.”
All board members attended the meeting.
In other business during its meeting Tuesday, the board:
• Unanimously approved a one-year, $26,400 contract with Wilson’s Cleaning for custodial work at the school system’s central office and ancillary. Wilson’s Cleaning submitted the lowest of four bids for the project.
• Unanimously approved an $8,000 contract with Terracon of Winterville to inspect some 1.3 million square feet of school roofs and develop a five-year roof maintenance and repair budget plan for those roofs.
• Unanimously approved a resolution supporting the creation of the Northeast Regional Early College High School of Biotechnology and Agriscience at the Vernon G. James Research & Extension Center near Plymouth. Beaufort County Schools will not provide transportation to students who want to attend the school, but BCS will release those students who want to attend the new school, according to BCS Superintendent Don Phipps.
• Unanimously approved a Code of Student Conduct that governs student behavior and outlines discipline procedures for the 2011-2012 school year. Some 7,000 copies of the new code, based on some 70 policies approved by the board Tuesday, will be distributed to students at the start of the new school year, the board was told.
• Unanimously approved a change to the policy governing school-board meetings to reflect the board’s recent change in meeting dates from the fourth Monday of the month to the third Tuesday of the month.
• Approved a substitute teachers list and a personnel list.