Schools tightening student policies

By Jeff Linville -

If a student-athlete makes a mistake, what should be the standard punishment for the infraction?

That is a question that the Mount Airy City Schools would like to answer this summer.

Jason Dorsett, chief operations officer, spoke to the Mount Airy Board of Education Wednesday night about updating the Athletic and Student Conduct Policies, which came during a session where a wide variety of district policies were discussed such as records confidentiality, internet safety and prohibiting harassment/bullying.

The student handbook already makes it clear what the schools expect of students when they are in the classroom, on campus or on a school bus, Dorsett explained. But, what about a student’s actions away from campus?

If a student “makes a poor choice” off-campus, should that affect his or her ability to play a team sport, he asked the school board. Should there be some consequence, and if so, to what extent?

Board member Alisha Dancy-Brown, who taught school herself for eight years, said that sports can be a positive influence in the life of an at-risk youth. Playing on a team can keep the kid out of trouble, so does kicking the child off the team make them more like to have further problems, she wondered.

Dorsett said he doesn’t believe that if you mess up once you should be off the team. “But what if it happens twice? How do we handle it?” There can be counseling that takes place after the first incident to try to make it less likely that a second occurrence happens, he suggested. And there needs to be a policy in place that governs all sports equally.

When he was at Mount Airy Middle School, Dorsett recalled a case where two students playing the same sport committed the same infraction. The kids played for different coaches, who chose to handle things in different ways. That becomes an issue for the school when parents come to complain about fairness.

Dorsett said he is looking for input from the school board as they are elected officials and listen to their constituents.

“What do we believe as a district?”

As it stands right now, Mount Airy High School doesn’t have a written policy in place for something as serious as a student being arrested for a misdemeanor. A teen being picked up for shoplifting or underage drinking isn’t covered in the student handbook. It would be left up to the individual coaches what punishments they felt should be dispensed to the players.

Surry County Schools approved some tweaks to its discipline plan for student-athletes on Thursday.

Section B states “The rules and regulations set forth in this discipline plan are in effect at all times — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Section C explains the code of conduct is in force “whether the offense occurs on or off school property; at a school-sponsored activity, function or event; or en route to or from a school or school-sponsored activity, function or event.”

It adds that the disciplinary measures listed in the policy are minimums; individual coaches may impose more severe punishments for violations.

If an infraction — on-campus or off-campus — causes a student to be suspended from school, then the period of suspension is directly related to a minimum number of suspended sporting events. A chart shows all the different sports.

Any length of out-of-school suspension means a minimum of one missed content.

For longer lengths, say if a student misses six to eight days of school through suspension, he or she must miss at least two baseball/softball games or two basketball games (as those sports play more than once in a week) and one football game or golf match (which tend to have only one event a week).

The county’s drug and alcohol policy says on first violation, it follows the same chart as suspensions. For second offenses, however, the player is banned from all sports for the rest of the school year. A third violation results in a permanent ban from sports.

Dr. Kim Morrison, city school superintendent, said that board member Ben Cooke couldn’t be at Wednesday’s meeting but has an interest in school athletics and would like to be on the district committee that discusses the policy.

Dorsett said the idea is to have a finished plan in place by the start of August. Then the plan can be made available to student and parents so that everyone understands the code and its consequences.

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.