The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Stafford changes alcohol policy
BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE
Stafford County students caught with alcohol on school grounds won’t face a mandatory long-term suspension under new rules approved Tuesday night.
The county School Board voted to change the penalty for possessing alcohol on school grounds from a minimum suspension for the rest of the year to a minimum suspension of 10 days.
“We’re not going to be allowing students to drink, I think that’s the public’s misapprehension,” said Daryl Nelson, director of legal services for the school division. “It’s going to make the process quicker and perhaps less painful for students who don’t need a whole lot of pain.”
The School Board initially voted against the changes with little discussion but brought the matter up later in the evening after School Board member Dewayne McCosker said he had more questions about the policy.
While many county residents worried that the more lenient policy would encourage students to drink and would lead to an increase in drinking and driving, Nelson told the board that the policy wouldn’t change much except to give principals more discretion for first-time offenses. “Our rule is inflexible,” he had said at an earlier meeting. “It starts with a yearlong suspension and it goes up to expulsion.”
Under the old rule, parents could appeal the suspension to the School Board. In this school year, there were 11 students suspended for alcohol violations, he said. Nine students appealed and seven of those yearlong suspensions were knocked down to 10-day suspensions. Nelson said the School Board was already enforcing more lenient rules. This lowers the number of appeals, he said.
The alcohol policy was one of three changes which first came before the School Board in May. The others were allowing cellphones on campus and allowing students to wear dorm pants to school.
On Tuesday, the Board voted down the changes to the dress code allowing students to wear dorm pants, which are similar to pajama pants. The vote was tied 3–3 on allowing cellphones on campus. That issue will be taken up again in July, when all seven members should be present. Nanette Kidby was absent Tuesday night.
When the three rules were proposed in late May, the public soon swamped School Board members with calls and emails opposing the changes. Nelson told the members that they had not really heard from a majority of students and parents. “Keep in mind you have 27,000 students, if you heard from 200, you’ve heard from nobody, really,” Nelson said Tuesday night.
School Board member Dana Reinboldt said that the one parent who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting made a valid point and offered a “stunning example of problems we could face” under the proposed cellphone policy.
That parent, Dana Brown, held up an iPad and showed a video she had shot that evening of the School Board’s bathroom. She said that she would just have to push one button to share that video on YouTube. Brown said that it would be easy enough for someone to put a cellphone or other device under a bathroom stall and post a video of another student undressed.
Reinboldt added that changing the cellphone policy could lead to bullying, drug deals and cheating. Nelson said those things could occur under the current policy.
Meg Bohmke voted against the new cellphone policy but indicated that she would support a slightly different version of the changes. “I have had a lot of angst over this cellphone policy. It does present some very exciting opportunities but it does also come with some significant challenges.”
Last year, under the current policy, there were 1,000 appeals of cellphone violations, Nelson said. “We’re already significantly burdened by cellphone use,” Nelson said, addressing concerns that teachers would have additional work policing cellphone use under the proposed rule.
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973 firstname.lastname@example.org