The Morehouse Parish School Board approved a new fighting policy to be implemented in the 2018-2019 school year at a meeting on Tuesday.
Morehouse Parish Child Welfare and Attendance Supervisor Ralph Davenport presented two new policies for a second reading – Fighting H-3.6f and a Policy for Breaking Up Fights F-27.
The fighting policy explains that any student in grades 5-12 who engages in a physical altercation with another student will be suspended and recommended for expulsion. The policy states that any student who is "found guilty of fighting shall receive as a minimum the following penalty: expulsion for one full school semester and readmission on a probationary basis to the Fresh Start Alternative School Program for a minimum of 60 days."
Students in grades pre-kindergarten through fourth grade who are found guilty of fighting will face either corporal punishment or be suspended three days out of school.
According to the policy, no students acting in self-defense will face punishment.
Davenport said the main reason for the implementation of the new policies are because of an increase in fighting in Morehouse Parish schools. He said there has been a 300 percent increase in fighting in the last six years, stating that fighting incidents were at 3 percent for the 2011-2012 school year and had increased to 10 percent for the 2017-2018 school year.
Both of the new fighting policies were approved by the board, however, not unanimously. Board members Louis Melton, Chastity Kennedy and Rose Thompson voted against fighting policy H-3.6f, because of the stiff punishments
"I think we can't just throw our children away," Kennedy said. "We need to find better ways of doing things."
During the public comment section of the meeting, Ricky Anderson also spoke out against the punishments in the new policy.
"I think this is not only cruel and unusual punishment, but also a civil rights issue," Anderson said. "When the board sets down this type of law on children, it's wrong."
Anderson also mentioned how he did not believe the superintendent selection process was fair.
"Where is the leadership?" Anderson said. "I know you aren't going to answer me, but are we doing right by the children? Are we doing right by this community in the ways that these meetings are conducted?"
The board also approved an amendment to a contract with Beekman Charter School to comply with all state statutes.
At this time, Beekman Charter School Principal Emily Myrick said she did some research and asked the board if they knew if all Morehouse Parish schools are also state compliant.
"I'm aware that at least one other school in the area is not state compliant," she said.
Myrick also stated that the school does not hand-select their students, and the school feels isolated from the parish.
The board also adopted a resolution to declare an emergency for the Delta Jr. High School sewer system, and to accept quotes for the repair, estimating the cost to be approximately $57,000.
Effective July 1, 2018, the board also approved of new teacher salary guidelines. The guidelines state that "uncertified teachers will start at a base pay" and "no steps will be earned or awarded until a teacher acquires certification by the Louisiana Department of Education." The base pay for a person with a four-year college degree or higher who is not considered state certified will be $28,586 per school year. Uncertified teachers will not receive any sales tax supplements.
The board considered, but did not yet approve to make Transportation Coordinator Verbon Muhammad a 12-month employee beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, instead of an 11-month employee. Muhammad said he is the only employee in the maintenance department who is not employed for a full 12 months. Melton said he agreed that Muhammad should be a 12-month employee.
Thompson addressed the board to discuss a building at Delta Jr. High School. She said the principal at the school allegedly used a private contractor to add to the building, which would be illegal as tax-payer money was used for the expense and it was not approved by the Morehouse Parish School Board.
"I think that's wrong," Thompson said. "There's always talk about wasting money. We wasted a bunch of money right there."