During Thursday night’s board of education meeting, Chairman Brad Ingle brought to light a concern that not only has plagued the school system and the county but also the state and even the entire nation.
“What I’m about to reveal and talk just a few minutes about, I think, is very important. Also, I know that these four board members here and Dr. Adkins feel it’s very important. It’s become a problem within our school system, and it’s time for it to be addressed,” Ingle said. “This county has a drug problem ... I can reference article after article, including government studies that will reveal that Walker County is not faring so well within the 67 counties in this state.”
According to a 2009 article on al.com, statistics show that Alabama ranked higher than the national average in the percentage of students in grades 6-12 who said they had used illicit drugs, tobacco products and alcohol. More surprisingly is that the highest percent of drug usage is found in the younger age bracket, grades six through nine.
“Society’s problems are best solved by changing the behavior of young people. The younger students, and I’ve talked to sixth grades, seventh grades, eighth grades and ninth grades; those are the ones that seem to pop up,” Ingle said. “Those would be 11 year olds, 12 year olds, 13 year olds, 14 year olds and 15 year olds. That’s pretty touching if you think about it just for a second. Those are babies.”
In an effort to deter drug-related violations and other acts of misconduct, the school board adopted some new policies during the 2012-2013 school year and even changed the name of the alternative school, which is now called the 180-Degree Program, “because the end result of having to go there should be a complete turn-around of a wayward student’s behavior.” According to the 2013-2014 Student Handbook, a student who is involved with drugs, alcohol, weapons, physical harm or threatened physical harm to others, will be suspended and have to schedule a hearing within 5 school days.
“Following a Class III violation or multiple Class II violations, a student can be suspended to the Central Office where the superintendent or his/her designee and administrators will conduct a due process hearing for the purpose of assigning students to the 180-Degree Program or other measures deemed appropriate,” the handbook states. “If the decision to expel the student is made, the expulsion shall be for any length of time up to the end of the current school year or one calendar year.”
Ingle stated the following facts: In 2005-2006 there were 1,071 placements and 347 repeaters at the alternative school; in 2011-2012 there were 783 placements and 222 repeaters. Since the new guidelines have been adopted, there have only been 178 total placements, with 18 of those ending in expulsion for violating the drug policy and only 21 repeaters.
“It is tough, but the goal is to keep drugs out of schools as much as we possibly can,” Ingle sternly said. “There will be no wrist slapping by this board on that. We stand by the decision we have collectively made that if you are caught with, have used during the day or are under the influence of, or can be proven to have intentionally brought illegal substances to school ... expulsion is the consequence for that.”
Parents and those in the various communities of Walker County are being asked to help the board and school leaders in ridding the schools of drugs. Ingle said there are approximately 8,000 students enrolled in the county school system.
“Parents can help. You can keep track of where your kids are at; you can search them; if you suspect them of drug (activity), you can test them. We need help from our community leaders and the community themselves,” Ingle stressed. “I think, with everybody working together and pulling in the same direction, we can rid our schools of drugs. We, as a board, feel that we owe it to the 8,000 students in this county school system to not let drugs be in our schools, and that’s what we intend to do.”
Superintendent Jason Adkins added that the number of fights among students in the system had dwindled immensely over the past few years.
“In 2009-2010 there were 243 fights in the Walker County school system. In 2011-2012, just with demanding a different level of accountability in schools in general, there were 151,” Adkins said, “and with the changing of the policies that number dribbled to 22. So, that’s a lot of change in a short amount of time. ... It is our goal to never have to deal with this again. It’s not against kids, it’s against drugs and for kids.”
District 3 board member Bill Edd Gilbert supported Ingle and Adkins by saying, “I agree with Mr. Ingle and what the board stands for. It saddens my heart, though, to have to put a child out of school for a year, but it’s just in the best interest of our schools, our kids and all the kids in the system. But most of all if we turn our lives over to Jesus Christ and then let Him take over, we’ll all be alright then.”
In other school board business, the board:
•approved the minutes of the July 18 and July 25 board meetings.
•approved the regular, professional, support and transfer personnel lists.
•approved the non-faculty (volunteer) coaches.
•approved the HeadStart training reports and information packets, organizational chart, monitoring matrix and handbooks.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12 at 4:30 p.m., and the first public budget hearing will be Sept. 10 at 8 a.m.