CARY — The Wake County School Board tackled several sticky issues June 18.
In its work session prior to the regular meeting, board members reviewed current policy on Level 1, or short term suspensions up to two days, and addressed potential changes.
While overall the number of Level 1 suspensions has fallen from 6,257 in the 2010-11 school year to approximately 3,659 this school year, board members have heard from parents that the number is still too high and, potentially, the suspensions are handed out arbitrarily as individual principals interpret policy for themselves.
The board backed off previous comments by Chair Keith Sutton who seemed to indicate he’d be willing to consider a moratorium on Level 1 suspensions. Kevin Hill said that why there are far too many such punishments given, he did not want to send the message that they were no longer a tool for principals to use.
Board members Jim Martin and Deborah Prickett both strongly questioned the use of suspensions to address problems of attendance, one of the major reasons cited for their use.
Martin questioned other uses such as for cheating, being disrespectful or using obscene language, saying he didn’t see how it would affect a student’s behavior in a positive manner.
Interim Superintendent Cathy Moore said the board’s suggestions and thoughts would be taken to principals for feedback and then brought back to staff and the policy board. Recommendations for changes to school policy could be presented as early as July 23.
Sheriff: Wake schools need own police force
The board’s Task Force for Creating Safer Schools presented their findings from three months of meetings to review the schools system’s safety and security plans.
Fifteen recommended items were presented along with supporting rationale.
Problems the task force found varied widely and included:
•WCPSS not conducting regular, comprehensive evaluations of prevention efforts,
•the use of cameras but without footage being monitored or centralized,
•a general lack of school safety training,
•a lack of district-wide bullying prevention and social and emotional learning programs,
•an inadequate number of counselors, school social workers, psychologists, nurses and other mental health professionals,
•a lack of a system-wide emergency operations plan with an accompanying lack of ability to initiate a system-wide alert,
•an inability of first responders to be able to communicate reliably with one another while inside school buildings due to radio signal penetration issues and
•a lack of independent auditing of and standard reporting on safety protocols at individual schools.
Task Force co-chair Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said that nearly all the issues stemmed from a lack of consistency within the system.
Even among the school resource officers (SROs) assigned to various schools, there are nine different agencies involved, not counting the school system itself. And all nine have different procedures in place.
Harrison’s solution, not contained within the recommendations themselves, was for the board to consider establishing a police force just for the school system. He pointed to Moore County and Charlotte Mecklenburg school systems as examples of a public school system having its own police force.
The reaction from the board was muted. Tom Benton said he was intrigued by the suggestion while John Tedesco spoke of the nearly 168,000 individuals within the schools on a daily basis as a potential reason for creating such a force.
As the Task Force recommendations were presented as information only, no action was taken.
And finally, a new superintendent
The board voted to appoint Dr. Jim Merrill as superintendent of the Wake County with Prickett and Tedesco dissenting.
Merrill, a former Wake County Associate Superintendent of Finance and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources began his career in 1973 as an English teacher, spending a total of 16 years in Wake County. Merrill is currently Superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools, the third largest school division in Virginia.
Board Chairman Keith Sutton said, “Dr. Merrill outlined an impressive program of growth for Wake County schools, and brings with him the skill set and institutional knowledge to lead the state’s largest public school district into a new era.”
Prior to his service in Virginia Beach, Merrill served six years as superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System.
Merrill will become the ninth superintendent of the Wake County Public School System since the merger of the city and county school systems in 1976.