Graduation policies require updating for state compliance
Formal regulations in place for CrossRoads student review process
By Kathryn Schiliro
Questions surrounding the review of Morgan County CrossRoads students – the conduit for allowing these students to return to their base schools – graduation requirements and participation in base school activities upon these students' return, e.g. the Morgan County High School graduation ceremony, prompted school system administration to convene a task force to review related board policies and procedures.
Questions were prompted last year when two seniors were under review and confusion about the issue of both being able to take part in the graduation ceremony was mixed up with being able to leave CrossRoads early, according to Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett.
Bennett presented revised policies and administrative regulation, based on the nine-members, school and community-based task force's suggestions, to the school board for review Monday night.
In regard to Administrative Regulation JDDA-R(1), "Assignment to Alternative Programs – Periodic Review Process," a need was cited to formalize this CrossRoads review procedure.
The regulation outlines the process for review of CrossRoads students, meant to "ensure that the student is making satisfactory progress toward a successful return to the middle or high school," it states. "It is NOT by design an early release program."
The path to CrossRoads includes a student disciplinary hearing; a transition meeting, at which time the nine-week review process is explicated; then enrollment at CrossRoads, the regulation states.
Review of students takes place each nine weeks only if it's determined by CrossRoads administrators that the student meets the criteria for review "based on extraordinary performance" with attention to: (1) the nature and severity of the offense – state law and board policy state that if the offense involves drugs, weapons or assault, the student be kept out of their base school for one year; (2) the time left on the expulsion; (3) the student's discipline record; and (4) the "exemplary attendance, behavior and academic record" of the student while at CrossRoads.
Recommended by CrossRoads administration, the student then takes part in a review hearing by the hearing officer where the student and administration must "present evidence of exemplary behavior," Bennett said. The officer, student, CrossRoads administration, base school administration and the student's parents are present at the hearing.
If it's determined by the hearing officer that the student meets the four-part critieria, it's possible they can return to their base school before their expulsion runs out. Moreover, upon their return, they're not to be penalized further and any restrictions as to participation in school-sponsored activities – bear in mind the student can't set foot on base school grounds while enrolled at CrossRoads – is lifted.
If the hearing officer denies the student return to the base school, by board policy and state law the student can appeal the decision to the school board within 20 days.
This review process began under former Superintendent Dr. Patricia Stokes. It was further formalized in 2008 by former Superintendent Dr. Stan DeJarnett, but not put into writing.
"Quite honestly, because it wasn't put into writing...some of it got lost," Bennett said. "Part of the purpose [of formalizing the regulation] is to make it a more efficient process and to provide more equity not only for the student but also for the [base] school."
The official regulation is meant to clearly define the process as well as clear up confusion about requirements for release from CrossRoads and participation in school-sponsored activities, namely graduation and the graduation ceremony.
School board Chairman Nelson Hale praised the addition of the regulation: "It's not left up to subjectivity."
Because this is a regulation and not a policy, the school board doesn't vote on this.
Also presented Monday by Bennett, in Board Policy IKD, "School Ceremonies and Obsevances," text was added to specify that students enrolled at the high school who meet graduation requirements and are in "good standing" can participate in the school's graduation ceremony.
"If they (the students) meet these things, it's not up to anyone's discretion who graduates," Bennett said.
Board Policy IHF, "Graduation Requirements," hasn't been updated since 1991 and needed to be updated in accordance with state regulations, according to Assistant Superintendent Sarah Burbach, and "made a little broader," Bennett said.
The term "high school diploma" was redefined according to state standards and specifies that students must have "satisfied unit requirements and the state assessment requirements" in order to receive a diploma.
Additionally, Burbach said, the U.S. Office for Civil Rights cited Georgia for using the words "Special Education Diploma" on the certification for Special Education students. Instead, in Morgan County, Special Education students' diplomas will not include the phrase and will instead state that the student has met the "Course of Study," i.e. their individualized education plan.
The "High School Certificate" was redefined within the policy as well. This recognition goes to students who've earned the required units to graduate, but haven't passed state-required assessments. These students don't walk at the graduation ceremony until they pass the assessments, which many do during retests over the summer; there's also a ceremony held at summer's end for these students where they are able to walk and receive their diploma.
As these policies require a board vote to be put into action, the county Board of Education voted unanimously to table a vote for 30 days in order to receive any public comment.
Printed in the December 13, 2012 edition