School board rejects ceremonyagain

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Parents, for the second time appeared before the Board of Education, this time with legal representation, requesting students to take part in graduation exercises, although they had not passed the exit exam.

Speaking before a standing-room-only audience, Attorney Richard Hartley, a former school board chairman for 24 years himself, spoke on behalf of the parents.

&uot;The issue before the board is a criteria, not a policy,&uot; Hartley said. &uot;The facts are simpleat last year's graduations, students that had completed all of their Carnegie units and other requirements, with the exception of passing the Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) were allowed to participate in exercises with their classmates.

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&uot;In July, the board chose to say that students could no longer be allowed to participatein August, parents were given copies of the red book', or student code of conduct and rules.&uot;

Hartley said when the parents received the books, there was not anything in them covering the graduation exercise.

&uot;Then in the end of September, parents received a page to add to their manualsone that reflected the so-called policy,&uot; Hartley said. &uot;Now, the problem is this: if in fact this is a policy, then after reviewing the minutes of the board for the past 14 months, I have seen nothing to reflect that this matter was presented to the Policy Review Committee, prior to being adopted by the board.

&uot;Which brings us to this: if it is a policy, it has been void since its inception, or if it is simply a criteria, it can be changed now, without going to a review committee.&uot;

Hartley offered solutions to the issue.

&uot;Regardless of whether it is a policy or a criteria, it is void,&uot; Hartley said. &uot;What I am asking the board to do tonight, is suspend the policy', and submit it to the policy review committee, which is where it should have originated anyway.&uot;

Hartley then pointed out that these are the first students to fall under this rule, and they have not actually had the advantage of learning to prepare for this exam.

&uot;This is not a legal issue, but rather a political oneboard members, I ask you to do your jobsdo what you get the big bucks for,&uot; Hartley said.

After Hartley spoke for approximately 15 minutes, the board took action.

Board member Billy Jones presented a motion that the board suspend the policy in question, and submit it to the policy review committee for consideration; board member Dennis Phillips seconded this, and a vote ensued.

Members Jones and Phillips voted for the motion and Member Frank Thigpen voted against it. But then, contrary to his originally voiced support for the issue, Member John Peagler voted against the measure.

The tie was broken when Board President Rudy McCrory voted against the issue.

The board then went into executive session.

Speaking outside the board chambers, Hartley gave his opinion of the issue.

&uot;Policy or criteria, the board could have called it whatever they wanted,&uot; Hartley said &uot;They could legally have done whatever they wanted to do, but this was strictly a political issueit is just a shame that the children are the ones hurt by it.&uot;

Kirby Blackburn, one of the several parents initiating the request to the board, said the issue is not nearly over.

&uot;We are not through discussing this issue,&uot; Blackburn said. &uot;It will come up again.&uot;

Regarding his change of action, Peagler said he was sticking to principles.

&uot;I originally said I would support the measure if it was for from now on', because I did not want this to be an issue that would change from year-to-year,&uot; Peagler said. &uot;I don't feel that this motion would have made it so.&uot;

In other actions, the board:

o Accepted the resignation of Marie Farmer, special education services teacher, Georgiana High School.

o Accepted retirements from Priscilla Davis, art teacher, Greenville High School, Danny Foster, business education teacher, Greenville High School and Jerry Peak, history and physical education teacher, Georgiana High School.

o Approved a bid on painting school buildings.

o Tabled bids on roofing of school buildings.

o Approved funding flexibility.

o Adopted the 2001-2002 school year calendar.

Following the executive session, in which several parents were called into the board's conference individually, the board returned to open forum to conduct the following:

o Suspended &uot;Student M&uot; for the remainder of the school year.

o Suspended &uot;Student N&uot; for one calendar year.