A recent situation involving pepper spray prompted Tallapoosa County Board of Education members to discuss the system’s policies on pepper spray and alternative school transportation.
Superintendent Joe Windle said at Tuesday’s work session the incident involved a male student who sprayed pepper spray at the floor then into the face of another student.
“It is common these days for parents to give a 16- or 17-year-old female pepper spray to attach to their keyring,” Windle said. “That particular day that keyring, instead of being in a bookbag, was lying on the front right corner of (the female student’s) desk. He grabbed it, being cute, and sprayed it into the floor and got no reaction. When he sprayed another child, he got a reaction.”
“My concern was why was there pepper spray?” board member Matilda Woodyard-Hamilton asked. “Why was just this kid suspended when he would not have been able to do that had it not been there in the first place?”
Windle said the alternative school punishment was based on the male student committing a Class 3 offense of causing pain and suffering to another student.
“She had it, irrespective of the reason why,” Woodyard-Hamilton said. “We need to be real consistent. You cannot say ‘Oh, but such and such’ and let her go. She did not tell him to take it, but had she not had it there, he would not have been able to spray anyone else.”
“We used the code of conduct guidelines to look at the punishments, but you’re right; there needs to be consistency,” Windle said. “We need to remind our principals and counselors to remind the students, especially the female students, to leave pepper spray in your car. You’re safe here in our building.”
The incident was brought up at the last BOE meeting when the mother of the male student addressed the board concerning the system’s policy that parents must transport students to the alternative school.
Windle said it’s no mistake the policy inconveniences parents; it was written that way intentionally.
“Our policy and present procedure for the alternative school requires a parent, guardian or person responsible for the student to provide transportation to that location,” Windle said. “When that was put in, the reason being was to have a parent have to share some of the hardship. If we provided the transportation, then the parent was home free … The principals at the schools can use this as leverage as a student starts to misbehave and becomes a prospect for alternative program. The principal can bring that student in and can say ‘If this student has to go to alternative school, you will have to take them.’ At times in the past, that has stopped the behavioral issues.”
Windle said this instance, in which a student was sent to alternative school for “one bad decision” instead of a trend of misbehavior, negates that purpose, but suggested the board does not make an exception.
“The legal advice is, if you don’t want lawsuits and this is your policy, stick to it,” Windle said. “Any exception would have to be brought by the superintendent to this board. Anyone can’t just appear before the board to have you make that decision. For example, a young person who is in a situation of a one-parent family with no car — that person can’t possibly get that child there.”
The board also discussed the difficulty recruiting special education teachers, and teachers in general, particularly during 2020’s obstacles.
“2020 has certainly been a challenging and unusual year,” Windle said. “We’re seeing more and more issues with getting quality teachers in Alabama. There’s just not that many kids going into public education at universities any more. There are multiple reasons — one is the times we’re in. Another is the move from Tier 1 (retirement benefits) … For us in Alabama, moving away from that has certainly impacted the number of people going into education. It’s a priority for (the Alabama Educators Association) and the Superintendents Association to move back toward Tier 1. I don’t see any signs that it’s got legs; the legislature doesn’t meet in committees like we used to be able to attend. We can’t get into the state house anymore in this session. We really rely on the feedback that we get from various sources rather than firsthand information of being in that committee meeting. I don’t see it having a lot of legs right now.”
Tallapoosa County commissioner T.C. Coley, who also serves as a representative of AEA, said he is “reasonably hopeful” the legislation could get through soon.
“It’s something we are going to look at,” Coley said. “We had a decent chance last time, but were unable to see it all the way through to fruition with everything going on with COVID. It’s a sensitive issue. Alexander City government passed a bill allowing employees to go to Tier 1. I’m reasonably hopeful we can find a way to get it done this session … Additional lobbying is going to be limited, if at all. It’s going to be a challenging environment.”
The board also discussed posting a position for deputy superintendent.
“There are several reasons that we are looking at this,” board member Martin Johnson said. “With the amount of building projects we have moving forward, we cannot move forward the way we want with one individual managing all those projects. With COVID being what it is, superintendent can be taken out at any moment and we need someone that can step in and keep plans moving forward. This money will come out of OCE; it doesn’t require any additional funds. The role will also absorb the student services duties.”
Windle said resume interviews will be conducted to evaluate candidates.
It was also announced during the meeting the system ended the 2020 fiscal year with $8.2 million in the general fund.
In other business, the board:
- Discussed a service agreement to pay $15 an hour to a technology contractor to finish out the year due to an employee who has had severe health issues. The agreement would be reevaluated in the upcoming year.
- Discussed potential changes to the handbook on aiding and abetting sexual abuse, adding language recommended by the state.
The next meeting of the Tallapoosa County Board of Education will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17. The virtual meeting can be viewed on the Tallapoosa County BOE website at www.tallapoosak12.org.