A proposed revision to an Elkin City Schools policy became a topic of debate Monday during the school board’s meeting, with one board member questioning the suggested change to the policy affecting how students who are not meeting expectations are handled.
Existing policy for students who pay tuition to attend Elkin City Schools reads, “The principal is granted the authority to deny admission to any nonresident students (grades K-12) if the student’s academic, attendance or discipline record has been unsatisfactory.”
Up until recently, Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe said, it was the administration’s interpretation of that statement that would include sending a student back to his or her home school district if they failed to meet those standards during the course of the school year.
“In most instances this is not based on one incident, but a culmination of history. Is this happening on a regular basis?” he said. “The principal could make the decision, and it didn’t have to be at the end of the year.”
In a case that arose a couple of months ago, a decision was made to send a student back to a home school district. Bledsoe said Wednesday that no parent has made an appeal on any decisions made by the administration recently.
Board member Frank Beals addressed his concerns about the situation, Bledsoe said Wednesday. “We listened and I shared the policy. I sat down with my principals and went over the policy, and Mr. Beals was in attendance. Our interpretation is the principal has the authority to send a child back.”
When parents and students sign the agreement allowing them to attend Elkin City Schools by tuition, a statement on the application reads, “Students must also continue to be in good standing in the above areas during the school year to remain a student in the Elkin City School System. Records may be reviewed mid-year.”
Bledsoe felt it was necessary to clarify the policy by adding a statement that “the principal has the authority to rescind the approved transfer at any time during the year” for issues dealing with attendance, academics or discipline.
When the proposed revision was presented Monday night, Beals said he felt treating students from outside the district differently than students from Elkin was a “fairness issue.”
He said the revision would “add another disciplinary action for out of district, not in district” students. Beals said a section of the policy already addressed suspension, and the revision just added another layer of discipline for the out-of-district students.
Bledsoe explained by state law, “a student who applies to attend Elkin City Schools are not entitled to a free and public education at Elkin City Schools, but in their district where they domicile, they are entitled to a free and public education.”
He added the children paying tuition “are here at our leisure.”
If a student is disruptive in the classroom, or not in attendance and requiring more work from the teacher to provide make-up work, “it takes more of the time of the teacher,” Bledsoe said. “Principals take seriously these decisions and how it impacts the classroom, the teachers and the students.”
The school system is “going to take care of that child and make sure they get the best education they get,” he said of those paying tuition. “My principals do not treat students unfairly.
“But a student who lives outside our district and makes issues is treated differently,” Bledsoe continued. “A kid who lives in Elkin and makes the same mistake is entitled to a free and public education. We do have suspension, and if needed expulsion, for those in our district if he continues to cause problems.”
Board member Dr. Jane Riley, who is a teacher in another school system, said Monday during the discussion of administration’s right to revoke a student’s out-of-district application, “My experience is most schools have that even within district. They have the right to send them back if it is discipline, if they are not attending or not living up to expectations.”
With school systems with multiple schools, it may be they are sent back to their home school rather than another school district, but the concept is the same.
Beals continued to express concerns that the decision to send a student back to their home district was made during a school year. “To me, once you take money from the parents, the student should stay,” he said.
But Bledsoe said Wednesday if a child is presenting issues in the first nine weeks of school, then the decision shouldn’t be stalled until the end of the school year.
School board Chairman Dr. Richard Brinegar agreed Monday, “I believe, I have tremendous faith in our administrators, we can continue to give them maximum authority. I wouldn’t want to wait a whole year.”
When Beals said students should be looked at the same whether they are in-district or out-of-district, Brinegar answered that most teachers don’t know whether a student is from Elkin district or not.
“If they were sending a student back, they would notify me and tell me why they are sending the student back, so we do have a checks and balances system,” said Bledsoe, adding the policy revision was simply to add clarification so it reads specifically what can happen rather than be left to interpretation.
But board member James Freeman said having the new statement added to the section only makes it redundant.
“I will take the statement out, but I want to know from the board members will you continue to support my principals’ decision to send a student back,” Bledsoe said. “In the past eight years since I’ve been here, there have been very few students sent back to their home school district.”
He said those who are sent back have the right to due process through an appeal process. “That parent by law has the right to appeal the principal’s decision. It would be an appeal I’m in charge of. If I support the principal, then they have a right to appeal to the board of education.
“I haven’t had any parent appeal any of the recent decisions of my principals to send a student back,” Bledsoe emphasized Wednesday.
“I just want to ensure my principals can make decisions and have the authority to make the best decision for the students at their school, especially when it is based on one decision made in which a parent has not made an appeal to me.”
The school board chose to table the proposed revised policy until the May meeting.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.