03/09/11 — School board discusses suspensions, bus stops

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School board discusses suspensions, bus stops

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 9, 2011 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education tackled several issues at its Monday night meeting, including student suspension rates, bus stop safety in rural areas and potential drainage problems at Eastern Wayne Middle School.

Since joining the board in the fall, Len Henderson, the county commission's appointee for the seat vacated by Shirley Sims, has focused his efforts on the schools' suspension rate.

So when the state Department of Public Instruction recently released its consolidated report of long- and short-term suspensions for the 2009-10 school year, he decided to broaden his approach. He was prompted to take action, in part, by recent comments from the local NAACP about their own concerns about the rates.

"Suspension is a very dear issue to me," Henderson said. "I felt that we needed to do something to let the public know that we're serious about this particular issue."

Henderson made a motion that the board direct the student services committee to analyze pertinent data and then meet with the NAACP president and education chairman to further discuss the matter, then report back to the school board at its next meeting.

But his motion did not receive a second. Henderson then turned his proposal into a recommendation.

Board Chairman Thelma Smith said that while his motion came up short of support, that should not be construed as disinterest by the rest of the board

"I'm sure we all are concerned and want to address the issue of suspensions," she said.

Board member Eddie Radford, a former principal, said he realized the problem schools face in the area of disciplining students.

"We certainly need to do something," Radford said. "It's alarming having to send students home. But it's a situation where we have got to look at the big picture. There are a lot of things we need to do."

Radford said he understood Henderson's concerns, as well as what educators and administrators are up against.

"I don't know if just a committee can do what we need to do but I'm willing to work and do what we can," he said. "When we have kids that knowingly break the rules, we have got to have some alternatives. If we don't have alternatives, it's going to get worse."

"Basically what I'm trying to do is get the student services committee to put some serious thought into this and what we can do," Henderson said.

Mrs. Smith pointed out that ultimately, the role of discipline rests with administrators at each school.

"But I think that it's something that maybe we need to bring to the attention of the principals," she said, suggesting the committee work to compile their recommendations.

Regarding busing, board member John Grantham raised concerns about some of the roads in rural areas where he said children sometimes have to walk up to a half-mile to reach a bus stop.

"A lot of these roads don't have shoulders," Grantham said. "It's very easy for someone to stop and grab them, even a teenage kid, on the way to school."

He asked Raymond Smith, the schools' transportation director, about the existing policies for bus pick-up, especially in cases where the bus is passing right by a child's home.

Smith said the most frequent calls he receives are from residents complaining that there are "too many stops."

"We can't stop at every house that we pass by," he said. "In essence, we would never be able to create a timely bus route. ... That's why we have community or congregational stops."

Smith said typically, efforts are made to pick up students at subdivision entrances, which saves not only time but money.

But students' safety remains the foremost concern, Smith added.

Every individual situation is addressed, he added, and at each school there is an investigation form that parents can fill out for that purpose.

"We'll make a determination and recommendation if this is a stop that we can make a change," he said.

"I think that helps out for people that are not aware of the options," Grantham said.

Another area of complaints is in location of bus stops, particularly those in proximity to businesses, Smith said.

"We will address those but as far as what goes on at those bus stops, that's a matter for law enforcement," he said. "We take responsibility once they board and school bus and once they deboard (at school)."

Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said he would urge parents to be patient with the situation and remember that the district's biggest priority is getting children to and from school safely.

In other business, recent conversations about drainage problems at Eastern Wayne Middle School prompted board member Arnold Flowers to pay a visit to the school.

The controversy centered around $15 million in federal Qualified School Construction Bonds to be divided between projects at Eastern Wayne and Norwayne middle schools. While architectural plans were believed to address drainage issues, commissioner Jack Best has suggested that other options be considered.

Flowers said he has listened closely to all sides of the issue, respecting each opinion shared.

But it all boiled down to one expert, he said, the one who "basically lives at the school."

For him, that meant talking with the school's principal, Cathy Eubanks.

"What Principal Eubanks told me was that she was very happy with the facilities there," Flowers said. "Yes, when it rains a lot, there would be some mud in spots but it went away quickly. That's without a drainage system.

"She said she had seen the plans with the renovations and it was very doable and very workable. She was very happy with it and excited about it and her staff and students and the majority of the parents were happy with it."