The Mehlville school board voted Thursday night to pass several policy revisions, one of which took a stronger stance against bullying.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Vicki VanLaere presented the policy modifications to the board, explaining the revisions were a result of adjustments taken by the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA).
Changes included adjustments to schools’ cell phone, gambling, drug and sexual harassment policies. But the policy that got the most attention tackled school bullying, an area that has gotten much discussion especially since technology has changed the scope and reach of bullying.
One change to the district's bullying stance was the removal of the phrase “repeated and systematic intimidation…” The omission signaled a zero tolerance take on bullying.
This raised a concern with a few board members who worried that first time offenses could lead to 180 days of out-of-school suspensions.
“We do have young students and students do make mistakes, even adults do," said board member Mark Stoner. “So I think a policy that could go up to 180 days of out-of-school suspension (for first time offenders) is really stringent.”
But Superintendent Eric Knost assured the board that each situation would be evaluated individually.
“You can’t define any two discipline situations as the same,” Knost said. “Every single one comes with its own set of circumstances. There could be a first offense that doesn’t require anything more than a detention, but it is bullying behavior. On the other hand, something else could potentially include assault and could require much more.”
Despite Knost’s reassurance, Stoner suggested the removal of 180-day suspensions for first time offenses.
“I worry, are we setting students up to fail the first time they make a wrong decision?” he asked.
Board member Elaine Powers voiced concern with the strength of punishments listed for first time offenses, but she also voiced trepidation with the removal of those punishments.
“I would be concerned if we pulled (the 180-day suspension) out for those things that may only happen one time but were very extreme,” she said. “Then we don’t have the means to deal with it, and we have to wait for them to do it again. That’s certainly not a risk I’m willing to take.”
By the end of the discussion, Powers wasn’t alone. This was a risk the board, itself, was not willing to take. The vote was 5-2 to pass the policy revisions, with Stoner and Rich Franz opposed.