BY NEAL A. Johnson
WESTPHALIA — Fatima R-3 board members at their Nov. 16 meeting discussed student handbook changes with …
WESTPHALIA — Fatima R-3 board members at their Nov. 16 meeting discussed student handbook changes with administrators but took no vote because that would supersede policy. Instead, administrative changes will take effect at the start of the second semester in January, and Woody said the goal is to increase respect at the school.
“We want to put some teeth into what we’re doing to bring back respect because we’ve had some issues over the last year that need to be addressed,” Superintendent Chuck Woody said. “Some punishments outlined in the handbook may not mean much or be effective.”
At the end of October, during the district’s Professional Development day, a good discussion was held among elementary and high school teachers about infractions in their respective buildings.
“We tried to come to a consensus, and it wasn’t 100 percent, but that’s okay,” said Woody. “We still had a great discussion.”
Disrespecting staff was combined with other disruptive language, and High School Principal Sharyl Kelsch said it was determined that the consequence should be the same for either.
“A lot of times, disruptions haven’t been written up until it gets to the point of being disrespectful,” Assistant Principal Matt Verslues added.
Woody noted that if a student is a habitual fighter, for example, and it continues to happen, administrators can go above and beyond to address the situation. He admits that’s a rarity.
Board VP Keith Huhn said he wants to ensure parents understand that the consequences are harsher now. “The first offense is really the harsher one,” he said. “I think you have fewer changes for the second and third. Parents are the ones that have to deal with this at home, and I want to make sure they understand that if a student did something incorrect during the first semester and now your punishment is harder on the second offense, this doesn’t start out as a clean slate in January.”
“Correct,” Kelsch said. “The only thing that starts fresh are tardies.”
Serious violations such as assault will not be given a free pass from one year to the next but disrespect is wiped clean after the school year ends.
“That would be a fresh start every year in the hope that you learned something over the summer and don’t do it again,” Kelsch said.
Woody added that changes would be on the district website, a letter would go home with each student, and a text would be sent to push out information.
Another change to the handbook regarded disruptive devices, including cell phones and other electronics.
Elementary Principal Melissa Wright said sixth-graders have been required to remove their watches because some were caught cheating last year.
The same requirement is in place at the high school. Kelsch said students should understand that smartwatches are now included in the handbook. “During testing, if a teacher said to take off the watch and put it away, that’s a fair request,” she added.
One distinction is whether a device is in use, meaning if a student is found to be using a disruptive device, the first offense will be a three-hour Friday detention. This has been the case for some time, so Kelsch noted teachers don’t have to determine punishment.
Teachers asked that lunch detention be used only for attendance-related violations (tardies).
Wright noted that her changes primarily dealt with breaking it up at grade levels. “There’s a huge difference in a kindergartener or first-grader making mistakes that we’re trying to teach them versus by the time they’re in fifth and sixth grade; they should know better,” she said. “So, you’ll see we’ve broken some of that up, so the consequences get stiffer in the higher grades.”
Other changes included cleaning up repetitive sections.
“Teachers going into Lumen trying to match up referrals with our handbook was difficult,” said Wright. “It’s just all over the place.”
Huhn asked if Wright and Kelsch feel that reporting issues will be more consistent across the school with changes to punishment.
“I think the time we spent discussing all of this definitely clarified things,” Kelsch said. “I can’t discipline things that (teachers) don’t write up. I know some teachers like to give chance after chance after chance, which I have no problem with, but we also reached that point where if a teacher has been dealing with something for a while and finally writes it up, even though it’s been a while for the teacher, I have to treat it as a first offense. I’d rather not get to that point.”
•Filing dates were approved for candidates seeking one of three three-year terms on the board in the April 4 election. Filing may be completed at the school’s administrative office beginning Dec. 6 and ending Dec. 27 during regular hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Filing will not occur on days school is not in session or closed due to inclement weather, but R-2 will be open on the final day of filing, Dec. 27, though school is not in session.
•Bills were approved for $832,462.77.
•The next meeting will be held on Dec. 7.
•A work session will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 to consider information gleaned during recent town hall meetings on a bond issue. Woody explained the architects would be in attendance, and board members may decide whether to place the issue on the April 4 ballot.
•Remaining business will be presented next week.