The turnout was small at the Columbia County Board of Education's first public forum with a trustee Saturday, but big issues were discussed.
District 2 Trustee Wayne Bridges held the listening session at Lakeside High School, where about 20 parents spoke on topics ranging from bettering education opportunities to tackling drug use.
One parent complained that middle-school children entering high school in the county are ill-prepared. She said that teachers have told her that middle-school pupils aren't learning the necessary math and language skills to excel in high-school courses.
Other parents of poorer-performing pupils asked the school system to provide night classes and more summer school courses. One woman confessed that after her daughter graduated from Lakeside High School she was diagnosed with two learning disabilities and could only read on a fourth-grade level.
"I think we can accommodate those kids with needs," Superintendent Tommy Price said. "We're open to (trying) anything we can to help students learn."
The same woman who complained about middle-school education also warned against a growing drug problem.
"There are more drugs in this school (Lakeside High) than you can even imagine," she said.
She proposed mass drug testing of county high-school students to expose the severity of the problem.
Bridges said parents need to take responsibility for a child's substance abuse problems and not school officials.
"What if we drug test one day and we get 300 kids that test positive for drugs?" he said. "Are the parents going to come up here and deal with them? Nope. Some will."
Outside the meeting, Trustee Lee Muns said he differed with Bridges' response and favors drug testing.
Muns said school officials shy away from drug testing for fear of media embarrassment.
"(Parents) want us to take the bold steps," he said. "They want us to be pro-active. They're not going to be upset at us for doing that."
Other issued broached at the forum included giving parents more updates on their children's grades than report cards, banning failing pupils from extracurricular activities and separating better-performing pupils from lower-performing pupils in the classroom.
Bridges' forum was the first such listening session. Each school board member will hold similar public forums in their districts as the school year progresses.
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