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School board adopts new rules on cell phones, vaping
Help is available for kids hooked on tobacco
428 new logo

The Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education voted 4-2 Monday to change the wording in student handbooks with regard to two items: cell phones in classrooms and the use and possession of tobacco and nicotine delivery systems such as vape pens and electronic cigarettes.

Those voting for the change were Jacquie Disque, Aaron Emerson, Susan Young and Deanna Essmiller. Lori Reneau and Chad Burroughs voted “no,” and board member Chris Umphres was absent.

The tobacco policy offers two paths for discipline for students caught with tobacco or paraphernalia. There is a “grow/education option” for students and their families who are willing to work with administrators, or a “noncompliance/punitive option for those who aren’t. The second option starts with a three-day suspension while the first option starts with one to three days of in-school suspension.

The objections voiced were that two paths could be seen as being unfair. The principal makes the decision of whether a family is cooperating or not with the education path.

“Do one or the other,” Reneau said, indicating the discipline should be the same for all students.

Burroughs agreed that the principal should not be the one to make a decision about which option to enforce. “Take the human element out of it,” he said. “Get rid of the gray and make the policy black and white.”

 The “growth/education option,” allows the student and the student’s family to meet with the principal and counselor and for the student to receive an informational course on vaping after a first offense. The “noncompliance/punitive option” also has the course but starts with more punitive discipline and ramps up more quickly.

Assistant Superintendent John Popp explained the reasoning for the two-tiered disciplinary plan, which came out of the anti-vaping task force. Vaping is not allowed on school grounds and it is illegal for students to have tobacco.

“We want to work with kids and their parents to overcome that addiction,” he said. That is why the “growth” policy continues to be less punitive even through a third offense. “Other parents don’t see that as a problem.”

The new wording will go in student handbooks at every grade level.

Disque asked Popp to report back to the board no later than the October meeting about how this two-level system is working.

Cell phones

Superintendent Khris Thexton explained the new rules on cell phones and personal electronic communication devices. The biggest changes are at the high school level.

“I’ve already made an enemy in my household with this one,” he said. “Phones are not supposed to be used during class. Even our substitute teachers prefer a school that doesn’t allow cell phones in class. We want students paying attention to what’s going on in class, not what’s going on in their phones.”

Electronic communication devices may be used during passing periods and/or during lunch at the high school but not in the classroom. The first offense is a warning and continued offenses can lead to after-school detention. The policy may include earbuds and watches if they are used for the purpose of communication.

“What if a teacher wants to allow it?” Essmiller asked.

“It may be harder for some of the teachers than for some of the students,” Burroughs added.

Thexton said it will be the principal’s responsibility to let students and teachers know the rules and to enforce them. Teachers also shouldn’t be scrolling through their phones in the classroom as they should be good role models for the students. Furthermore, he said staying off of the phone except for appropriate times can teach students a good habit for their future employment.

At the elementary level, the cell phone policy has not changed: “Put your cell phone away,” Thexton said. A student may have the device confiscated and taken to the office for the day on a first offense. After a subsequent violation, the parents have to come to the school to get it back.

There are more steps in the policy for middle school students, who may also face detentions and even suspension.

Alternative voting methods

Monday’s meeting opened with a citizen requesting open forum time. Janice Walker from the League of Women Voters Great Bend chapter talked about the league and its upcoming program, “An Introduction to Alternative Election Methods.” (See the Community Events calendar item for Sunday, July 16, on page 3 of today’s Great Bend Tribune.)

She also asked if officials would prefer a meet-and-greet to a candidates’ forum this October.

Starting the new year

With the new fiscal year underway, the board also elected officers, agreeing to have Disque continue for another year as president and Emerson to continue for another year as vice president. The board then approved 22 appointments and designations; and approved 18 organizational procedures.

These include:

• First Kansas Bank is the depository for active accounts of district funds, while Farmers Bank and Trust has the payroll deposits and direct deposits from the state of Kansas.

• The Great Bend Tribune is the official district newspaper.

• The mileage reimbursement rate for district employees is 65 cents, equal to the current state rate.

• Copies approved and prepared by the Freedom of Information Officer (Andrea Bauer), will cost 30 cents per page.

• Board meeting agendas and financial records that are more than five years old will be destroyed.

• The pay for a substitute teacher is $120 per day or $60 per half day.

Meeting at a glance

Here’s a quick look at other action taken by the Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education on Monday:

• New and revised policies as recommended by the Kansas Association of School Board were approved. One item scratched for the list for now was a revision on the policy for enrolling non-resident students. “It will be on hold until later in the year,” Superintendent Khris Thexton said.

• The board voted to approve exceeding the Revenue Neutral Rate (RNR) in the upcoming budget. Valuation has gone up, while the state has a flat 20-mill rate for the general education budget. This will result in more tax dollars being collected. The district may or may not want to exceed the RNR on taxes it can control, which are the local option budget and capital outlay. Keeping the mill levy “flat” will generate more revenue.

• The board approved the purchase of risers for vocal music students at elementary schools and the high school, using pre-approved quotes from Wenger Corporation, for a total of $63,208. 

• The board accepted a reward incentive contribution of $31.60 from Casey’s Rewards to Riley Elementary School.

• Two appointments were approved. Katelyn Schiffelbein will teach science at Great Bend High School and Michelle Mettlen will teach special education at Jefferson and Lincoln elementary schools.

• There were reports on summer school and summer meals served, as well as summer project updates.