Columbia County school officials on Tuesday initially authorized several policy changes that will affect students in the coming school year.
Policy changes concerning sex offenders, juvenile crime, middle school promotion and athletic team cuts created the most buzz at the school board meeting.
One proposed policy change allows administrators to eject students listed on a sex offender registry.
A student listed on a sex offender registry, according to the policy, "shall not be allowed enrollment in the Columbia County School System."
The one exception is a student mandated by a judge to attend school as part of the offender's sentence. In that situation, the policy calls for the student to attend Crossroads Academy, the county's alternative school.
Convicted in March 2002 for child molestation and criminal attempt to commit rape, Christopher Allen Hall, 20, was a registered sex offender while attending Harlem High School.
The new policy is a reaction to Hall, who plead guilty June 17 to the molestation of a 15-year-old classmate at the school.
Superintendent Tommy Price called the Hall situation a "snafu," and said he felt the policy, which also calls for principals to notify his office of any convicted sex offenders attending their school, offers prevention for students from sexual predators.
School board member Lee Muns objected to many of the proposed policy changes, which covered a range of topics. He said trustees should establish guidelines on some of the modifications.
Another new policy establishes a review process for students convicted or charged with a serious crime. The change would allow the superintendent's office to make decisions on whether a student accused of a felony and some misdemeanors can continue attending public school or whether a student with a criminal record can transfer into the system.
"I'm just saying let's not make it so subjective," Muns said. "I think a set of guidelines would lend validity to the process."
Price said he believed guidelines were unnecessary.
"We feel like we get adequate direction in the policy that we don't need a procedure," he said.
The board might soon set a new standard by which middle school pupils advance to the next grade.
A proposed policy stated, "At least three of the four core courses (math, science, social studies and language arts) must be passed." If the change is adopted, any student failing two of these courses in the same year will be kept back.
Muns said he believes the policy should be stricter. He said the proposed change would allow a student to fail the same core course three years in a row and still make it to high school.
Price warned against making grade promotion too difficult.
"I don't think we need policies so strict on retention you do more harm than good," he said.
Another policy calls for middle- and high-school athletic directors to establish a grading system for students trying out for sports teams. Each AD sets his or her own criteria by which a student makes a team.
Again, Muns called for the board to establish a set of guidelines by which coaches can assess athletic performance and make cuts.
"We need to give (athletic directors) some kind of basis of what we're looking for," he said.
Trustee Wayne Bridges disagreed.
"I don't want to get into the middle of picking teams," he said.
The proposed policy changes passed with a 4-1 vote, with Muns the lone dissenter. The board will further discuss the changes at the next school board meeting July 27.
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