Though reviewing handbooks is normal for the Newton Board of Education, what set the item apart at Monday's meeting was the fact that one item — namely, the a proposed change to the Cum Laude system at Newton High School — drew a lot of feedback at the school board's last meeting in May.
Since that time, NHS administration reviewed the proposed changes and made the decision not to move forward with said changes for the 2019-2020 school year, keeping the current honors system intact.
"That's a building-level decision. We did not have input on that," said board member Toby Tyner, "and I applaud that decision as well."
While it was reported that changes to the honor system may be considered again in the spring of 2020, NHS Principal Lisa Moore said that if the issue is readdressed, the school will seek out additional input from the building site council, student council and students or parents affected by weighted grades, a part of the current Cum Laude system criteria.
Board members raised questions about reviewing handbook changes earlier in the year to potentially welcome more discussion on pertinent topics to students and parents in the district. While Superintendent Deb Hamm noted the end of the school year is when those changes for the next year are reviewed, she said administration could look into an earlier review timeline.
"I think the timing was difficult," board member Angela Becker said of the discussion around the honors system changes.
One other change was proposed in the NHS student handbook for the 2019-2020 school year — also spurred somewhat by the feedback it generated within the student body — as bandanas were moved to be included among head gear in the banned items section of the dress code.
Issues regarding the wearing of bandanas were brought before the student council by the Student Racial Justice Club following an incident earlier in the school year, part of the basis for why bandanas were officially moved to be included among items that violate the NHS dress code. STUCO executive board members and a few other female students were brought into the discussion with administrative staff and given equal voice.
"We generally work with the student council," Moore said, "and the student council is the voice for the students."
Upon discussion between the staff and student representatives — as well as district administration confirming the continued issue of bandanas being linked to gang affiliation with local law enforcement —the decision was made to officially list bandanas among the banned items in the dress code.
Coming to the board for review, the handbook changes will officially be voted on for approval at the next board meeting on June 24.
In other business, the Newton BOE:
Approved the consent agenda items including additions to the Cooper Early Education Center playground, employment contracts for multiple Head Start positions, restoration of an exterior wall at Cooper, renewal of the district's accounting software and more.
Approved revisions to the 2019-2020 transportation, Santa Fe, Cooper (family/staff/transportation) and district elementary school handbooks.
Approved gift requests of flat steel valued at $638.01 for the Newton High School welding program from Full Vision Inc., an engine and transmissions ($500) for the NHS auto program from Abrahams Engine Service & Supply, a 1995 Chevy truck ($2,500) for the auto program from John Miller and a $15,000 donation to help with the purchase of athletic equipment for NHS and Chisholm Middle School from the All Sports Booster Club.
Approved an updated bond resolution — to supplement Resolution 01-28-19 — slightly altering the original language to change the polling place election to a mail-in ballot election.
Approved the School Violence Prevention Program and State Safe and Secure Schools grant applications.
Moved to push the organizational meeting to decide school board president and vice president to the first meeting after the second Monday in January, as now allowed under state statutes.
Was informed of the requirements being established at Opportunity Academy, with 21 credits being proposed for graduation, rather than the 24 required at NHS, to better facilitate the students the alternative school will be serving.
Heard a similar proposal from the Harvey County Learning Center to allow students 21 and older to graduate from the learning center with a NHS diploma after completing 21 credits.
Learned of a new Spanish course — and materials — being worked into the curriculum at Chisholm Middle School.
Received information on IRIS (integrated referral and intake system), which Harvey County Health Department Director Lynnette Redington reached out to the district about in hopes to more easily set up students/parents with the resources they may be needing.
Heard about district administration's work with the Central Kansas Community Foundation to establish an annual $1,000 scholarship for a NHS student pursuing a post-secondary music education thanks to the donation from a 1947 NHS graduate.
Reviewed end-of-the-year building site council reports, with Hamm also encouraging board members to consider serving on said councils to gain more insight into the district schools.
Was alerted and invited to a school bond presentation Hamm and architects will make at the upcoming chamber breakfast on June 21.