BOE Comes to Split Decision Over Early Graduates Attending Senior Trip

Shelby Gooden, Lilly Plumbley, and Emma Wamsley, members of the TCHS Robotics Team, explained to the board the concept behind their competition entry and showcase their recent Style Award

By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate

It’s becoming more common to have a larger audience at the Tucker County Board of Education meetings. After the meeting was called to order by President Tim Turner and the reciting of The Pledge of Allegiance, delegations were addressed, which consisted of Valerie Eye. Eye is a DTEMS teacher and mother of an early graduating senior. She wanted to take a moment to thank the board for listening to their concerns over the matter of early graduates attending their senior trip and wants to ensure a policy is set relating to aspects of seniors wishing to graduate early, from the trip, prom, graduation, etc. “I’m not going to have any hard feelings, my daughter has come to the understanding that the decision has been made and she’s kind of done fighting,” Eye said. “I do feel like it’s a real injustice to the students that they didn’t find out about this until a month ago,” she continued as she explained how the students feel about the situation.
The TCHS Robotics Team lead by Dr. Caligiuri had members present to showcase to the board members a robot they built. Shelby Gooden, Emma Wamsley, and Lilly Plumbley along with other teammates recently attended a competition where they placed twelfth out of twenty competitors and received a style award. The three girls explained to the members of the board how the robot was designed and operates utilizing a phone app. E. Wamsley said she was embarrassed to be a junior and a newcomer to the robotics team, but board member Cathy Hebb intervened saying, “What’s embarrassing is having a desire and not going for it, so good for you, for all three of you.” Superintendent Alicia Lambert said, “When Tucker County first went the whole STEM route, a lot of the emphasis was on trying to get more girls involved in STEM, because typically your boys were more so in the engineering fields and kind of took the science role on themselves. So a big emphasis was girls in STEM and I think that you guys are doing that, so congratulations.” The next competition they will be attending is at Garrett College on January 11.
Stephen Cosner, Principal at TCHS took a moment to update the board on the second nine weeks at the high school. He stated students are being recognized for positive behavior on a weekly basis and the journalism club has been submitting articles to The Parsons Advocate. Students are completing their first semester and preparing for schedule changes after the Christmas break while others are preparing to graduate a semester early. “If you want to know how you can help I ask that you still keep the school resource officer in mind,” Cosner stated. During the second nine weeks, the police were called twice to report to TCHS. It takes approximately 15 minutes for an officer to arrive. Turner asked how the benchmark testing was going for the students, with Cosner replying, “Benchmarking, we’ve seen some improvement, it’s not where I want it to be, it’s not.” He noted some issues were had at the beginning of the year but they are hoping to see more improvement after the next testing period.
Discussion items consisted of the Student Success Act of 2019, which was addressed in a work session immediately following the regular session. Consent agenda items including the approval of December 2 meeting minutes, payment of bills, budget adjustments, acknowledgement of intent to home school, and out of state travel were all approved. Board member Cathy Hebb did ask for clarification on the senior student transferring to home school, that they would not be permitted to graduate with their class and walk across the stage. Lambert confirmed that is correct, that they would no longer be a student at TCHS, therefore forfeit their right to any class or school functions henceforth.

The Board of Education members struggled with their position when a vote was called for regarding the allowance of early graduating seniors to attend their senior class trip

The first topic under additional business warranting a vote was that of the early graduates being allowed to attend the senior class trip and other activities. Lambert read the following statement, “The Superintendent recommends, in consideration of past practices and current early graduation policy, to not allow early graduates to attend the senior trip, due to liability issues. The Superintendent also recommends, in order to attend the Senior Prom, that early graduates must be invited by a current student.” She did add they are permitted to walk at graduation with their class. This lead to a discussion regarding information received from legal counsel and current policy number 54-64. Lambert also noted she was told that the students were informed during scheduling that if they chose to graduate early, this could cause issues with eligibility to their senior trip. However, Cosner being in the crowd, stated “I will not 100% say that every student was talked to that way, but the kids that I talked to, first thing was I recommend that you stay until May,” but he could not say they were specifically told they would not be allowed to participate in spring activities. Board member Jessica Wamsley expressed sincere regret that students worked hard for this honor yet may not get to participate, but also understands the legal liability this puts the school and board of education at risk of. She feels that sole issue that led to this issue was a lack of communication. Wamsley wanted parents and students to know their concerns have been heard and though it may not end in the result they hoped to, it will create change going forward. Options were briefly discussed on how the students could enroll to become virtual students, however the intentions of most of these early graduates are to move beyond high school and focus on careers or other areas of study not offered through TCHS.
Turner expressed his understanding of both sides, where there is no signed documentation between the school and the students or their parents showing awareness and understanding of this rule or policy, however he does see how there are options for the students to remain students at TCHS to solidify their ability to attend all functions through the school. He agrees with Wamsley that miscommunication is to blame for a lot of this issue which needs to be rectified going forward. Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans questioned if release of liability forms could be signed, as well as notarized, and would prevent potential legal issues for the school and board as a way for them to attend. He also suggested that rules be set and if they are broken, they will not be permitted to walk at graduation. Lambert replied, “If the board chooses to go against the recommendation, I’ll do my best.” Moving forward, a very detailed policy will be readily available for all to understand and agree to if they choose to graduate early. Lambert noted her position is based on recommendations by the attorney. Turner asked for a show of hands in favor of the recommendation made by the Superintendent. Hebb and Wamsley raised their hands. He asked for those opposed with board member Chris Gross and Evans raising their hands. Turner refrained from voting, therefore had to ask for a second vote. This time, he sided with Gross and Evans to go against the recommendation made by Lambert.
Turner asked Lambert to go back to the attorney and if a letter is submitted to the board stating there are no safe avenues to allow these students to attend this trip, they will have no choice but to agree with the recommendation made by the Superintendent. “We cannot override the legal advice that we receive,” he concluded.
Moving into personnel, there was a request to move into an executive session for a brief discussion. Upon returning, no decisions were made. Lambert recommended the hiring of Paul Pennington as half time Agriculture Science Instructor at TCHS, effective January 2, 2020 with all in approval. Kimberly Wamsley requested unpaid FMLA leave beginning on or about February 23, 2020 until released by a physician. This too was agreed upon unanimously. Under extra-curricular, extra duty assignments, Lambert recommended Sarah DiBacco to serve as a volunteer softball coach at TCHS for the 2019-2020 school year pending certification and background check. All approved.
There was also the creation of new positions which included three intervention specialists, two of which would serve at TVEMS and one at DTEMS, as well as an additional general maintenance position. The board all agreed on these positions to be created and posted for applicants.
The financial statement was presented by Finance Director Tracy Teets for review. She also provided statistics regarding substitute funds utilized thus far as well as personnel. She noted that as of the end of November, Tucker County Schools were 32.2% per personnel funds. She also told the board that she received a letter from the auditor informing her that there will be new reporting requirements which will likely result in audits costing the school board more in regard to state grants received. “We did receive our enrollment and funding numbers from this fiscal year,” Teets continued. “We are going to be losing funding for 18.48 students,” which to her rough calculations equates to approximately $123,000. All were in favor of accepting the financial statement as presented.
Another executive session commenced in regards to a student hearing. At the return of the regular session, a calendar of events was briefly reviewed noting the next regular meeting is slated for Monday, January 6, 2020 at 4:30 p.m. This lead the board into a work session to further distribute the funds received as a result of the Student Success Act of 2019. Nothing was voted upon to solidify decisions, but further discussion commenced to determine the highest priorities for the three county schools. As final decisions are made, such as the creation of the new positions approved during regular session, they will appear on the agenda for official decisions to be made.