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Drug testing set for extracurricular activities / February 27, 2019
The Mecklenburg County School Board adopted a new random drug testing policy for students involved in extracurricular activities, including sports, clubs, band and driving.

The vote at the School Board’s Feb. 19 meeting was 8-1, with Wanda Bailey the lone member in opposition. She did not offer a reason for her vote either before or after balloting by the board.

Band students were included under the drug policy after Mecklenburg County Public Schools rewrote its academic program. Band is no longer considered a “co-curricular” program. Student participation or failure to participate in band performances that take place outside of regular school hours will no longer impact the student’s grade.

The policy applies to all students in grades six-12 who choose to participate in extracurricular activities, and it prohibits students from using or possessing alcohol, tobacco, inhalant products, anabolic steroids, and other drugs and controlled substances on school property, on school buses or during school activities, on or off school property.

The new policy calls for students to complete a pledge form and submit to random drug testing in order to participate in extracurricular activities. Any failure to submit to testing, or a positive finding from a drug test will cause the student to be banned from participation in any athletic or VHSL-sanctioned competitive extracurricular activity or any club or organization activity for a set period from a minimum of 20 days for a first offense. A permanent ban would take effect with a third offense.

In other School Board business,

» After several conversations on the problem of ever-growing unpaid meal balances through the school breakfast and lunch programs, trustees adopted procedures to address the situation.

Under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, schools are required to ensure that students have access to nutritious meals to support their academic success. Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols noted that it is also imperative to protect the financial stability of the school nutrition program.

Food Services Director Robin Moore has developed procedures for situations where children eligible for reduced-price or full-price meal benefits have insufficient funds to pay for school meals, as well as for the collection of unpaid meal charges and delinquent account debt.

Under the new policy, no student will be denied what the school calls a meal, even if they have accrued a negative balance on their cafeteria account. Once a student has accrued an unpaid balance of $25 on their cafeteria account, a letter will be sent to the household. If the balance remains unpaid, a notice will be delivered to the household via school messenger, and if no payment is forthcoming after the second attempt, phone calls from the school nutrition program office or the school principal will be made to the household.

All notification will include the amount of unpaid meal charges, expected payment dates, the consequences of non-payment and where to go for questions or assistance.

If payment arrangements have not been secured after four successive attempts to contact the household, and if the debt has been outstanding for at least one year, the school reserves the right to pursue collection through the local court system.

» Lucille Hudson was recognized for her years of service to the students and educational system of Mecklenburg County. Now over 100 years old, Hudson was not able to attend the presentation ceremony. Nichols promised to deliver her plaque personally and invited members of the School Board to join him.

Hudson’s distinguished career began after graduating from the Mecklenburg Training School in 1934 and Virginia State College in 1936, where she received her teaching certificate. Returning home at age 17, she taught in the rural schools in the community where she was reared before accepting positions at Mecklenburg Training School and then the John Groom Elementary School in South Hill. During this time, she also continued to further her education and received a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and a Master of Science degree in supervision from Columbia University in New York City.

After 18 years in the classroom, Hudson was named elementary supervisor for Mecklenburg County Public Schools. During her tenure as elementary supervisor, Hudson was instrumental in introducing a new kindergarten program to the county.

She retired after 43 years in education.

» Nichols announced the school division has received a $10,000 grant from Cypress Creek Renewables, one of several solar energy developers that are interested in building a utility-scale solar farm in the community.

Speaking for the company, Parker Sloan said he hoped the money would be used to develop a curriculum around solar energy, from training installers to preparing students for careers in engineering and design.

“While I don’t pretend to know the needs of your community, one idea that we have, that we have already initiated is a partnership with a group called Bonneville Education Foundation and their clean energy Bright Futures program,” said Sloan.

Bailey sought assurances from Sloan that Bonneville Education Foundation’s Bright Futures program would satisfy the new “energy cluster” programming mandated by Virginia’s Department of Education. She was told by Nichols that the foundation, which is based in Oregon, would need to work with the Virginia Department of Education to satisfy its requirements, something that has not yet been done.

The reason Cypress Creek wants to work with the schools, Sloan said, stems from his and Bonneville Education Foundation’s belief that the way energy is generated, distributed and manufactured is changing rapidly so they are looking at ways to prepare students for future work in the industry.

Sloan promised another $100,000 to the Mecklenburg County Business Education Partnership to continue development of and advanced technology curriculum and the credentials that will go along with the educational opportunities. The additional $100,000 gift is contingent upon Mecklenburg County granting Cypress Creek Renewables a special exception permit to install a utility scale solar farm in Bracey at the intersection of Red Lawn Road and Highway 903.

While Nichols said he was pleased that the school division would now be working with Cypress Creek, he noted several other companies have also committed time and resources to the school division for its new advanced technology career center, among them MidAtlantic Broadband with fiber optics, and Office Depot, which is looking to develop opportunities for working with drones in tandem with county schools.

Microsoft has already spearheaded several educational opportunities — the TEALS program, the 4-H Tech Changemakers, and the company is further working on a new initiative that, according to Nichols, “is going to be looking more toward businesses getting directly involved with the K-12 environment, with recruiting and making sure that the jobs that are available in those industries are available to our students and they are prepared for them.”

Trustees also adopted “In God We Trust” as the new motto of the school board. A plaque with the motto was hung on the wall following the adoption.

South Hill trustee Gavin Honeycutt thanked leaders of the MCBEP, Gina Lawrimore, Gina Mull and Betty DeOrnellas for the work they do to fund scholarships and educational programs for students in Mecklenburg County.

As the school division continues to grapple with a teacher shortage, board trustees approved two measures aimed at filling existing gaps in teacher personnel, among them being foreign language, science, math, and special education teachers and media specialists. The first option would authorize the school to offer signing bonuses to teachers who accept positions in the school division.

Trustees, by a vote of 8-1 with Glenn Edwards voting no, agreed to enter into a contract with Educational Partners International, to provide the school division with one more option for filling teaching vacancies. Edwards said he objects to hiring teachers from outside the United States for several reasons, including the fact that they do not pay taxes while living here and that this program had been attempted in the past, and many of the teachers had language issues that made it difficult for students to understand them.

A request from members of the Historically Black Schools of Mecklenburg County to preserve and turn over to them, any artifacts and records from the old West End and East End high schools was approved by the trustees without opposition.

Jean Spain, secretary for the organization, shared its mission: “to collect, assemble and preserve for posterity a collection of artifacts, memorabilia and profiles. Then to secure a facility worthy of housing and displaying the collection for the educational benefit for the public.”

For now, the materials they’ve assembled are only available for viewing at the Thyne Institute in Chase City in February. They are hoping to find a permanent home for the collection.

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