Schools gearing up for new year

Parent calls for review, replacement of policies

By Casey S. Elliott - [email protected]

Urbana City Schools is working on developing a parking plan to deal with traffic as construction begins on the high school.

The draft plan was discussed at the school board’s Tuesday meeting.

The plan would have bus drop-off and pick-up starting at the driveway entrance west of the school and exiting from Carson Street to Boyce Street. The plan does not allow parking or standing in front of the school and would have one-hour parking and parent drop-off on Washington Avenue east of the front of the school. Student, teacher and other parking would be in the neighborhoods around the schools.

Superintendent Charles Thiel told the school board he hopes to meet with city of Urbana officials to finalize the parking plan and perhaps get fresh paint put down to better identify areas where people can and cannot park. He also hopes the city will refresh the paint for the crosswalks to make them easier to see.

The first part of construction on the new high school will remove the “east” building of the site, which includes using an existing parking lot there. That is what is causing the parking issue.

Policy problems

The school board on Tuesday heard from parent Randy Dunham, who asked the board to suspend, investigate and reissue several policies in the student handbook he says are unfair, unconstitutional and removes his rights as a parent.

Dunham spoke to the board in May about these issues, focusing on attendance, required doctor notes and administrator interviews with students. Specific policies he wants the board to review are the six-day absence rule, a requirement for doctor’s notes, the athletic handbook policy that allows interviews with students for violation of the district’s drug and alcohol policy, and the mandatory fee for the student handbook.

Dunham said the absence rule is a problem, as other top school districts in the state have more lenient policies. It also treats absences as disciplinary actions, when he said they should be separate. The policy allows for unexcused absences up to six days a semester, then further absences need a doctor’s note.

Dunham said he ran into the issue when his son had six days missed, and then had a seventh with a few weeks of school left. He said he does not believe the district can compel him to take his child to a doctor and pay a doctor’s fee if the student is not sick enough to warrant it. And the district does not reimburse parents for the cost.

“Your policies don’t supersede my right as a parent,” he said. “It is fundamentally unconstitutional to make (my child) go to the doctor.”

Dunham said he wants more leniency on the number of days allowed or teachers given more leeway to excuse absences. Dunham added state law defines truancy, and parents should just make sure they are not in violation of that.

Dunham said the district’s handbook policy that allows an interview with a student to investigate allegations of violations of the drug and alcohol policy is wrong. He added that interviews are not taped and students need to be informed they are allowed to have a parent present. He said it comes down to what the athletic director says and what the student says, and often it is the student who is not believed.

Dunham said this has been a problem because some students may suffer sanctions when they were not involved, such as losing out on scholarship or athletic achievements.

And Dunham wants the mandatory fee for the student handbook removed. It is currently charged with the locker fee, he said. He added the handbook is available for download online, and the rest of the document contains a planner, which could be purchased separately if the student wants one.

The board did not act on any of the policies at the Tuesday meeting, but board members agreed to have a special work session to discuss Dunham’s issues.

“We can make a decision whether we like or don’t like (them), pass them or don’t pass them. That’s being fair to Randy, and that’s being fair to the school,” board President Jan Engle said. “Do I agree with everything he says? No. Do I think he’s completely crazy? No. I think he’s got some valid stuff.”

Engle said he also had a situation in which the attendance policy kicked in when his children were in school. At the time, it was his decision to either take a vacation as planned or cut it short to not exceed allowed absences. He chose to take the vacation and his daughter got a zero for the semester.

“You know, we all know we’re not a bunch of ogres,” he said. “We take things into consideration. We are not there to run the world or anything. People ought to realize that, too, there’s reasons why some of this stuff is done.”

Dunham said after his presentation that he will pursue legal action if the board does not act on the policies.

Parent calls for review, replacement of policies

By Casey S. Elliott

[email protected]

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.