The Henry County School Board is considering reworking several key policies and regulations, some of which were dictated by changes in state and federal law, most significantly those concerning the use of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes.

Christy Landon, director of human resources for Henry County Public Schools, reported to the board at its meeting Thursday night about proposed revisions “to bring policies into compliance with new or existing laws and regulations, or they have been revised for procedural or editorial reasons.”

The most significant of these adjusts or formalizes rules about the use of tobacco products and nicotine vapor products.

The use of “vaping” products has skyrocketed among teens, and they are known to have the same addictive and destructive effects of cigarettes.

Regulations are being updated and expanded to define and prohibit the possession, use or distribution of traditional tobacco products and nicotine vapor products by students, staff and visitors on a school bus, on school property, or at an on-site or off-site school-sponsored activity, Landon reported.

A policy on standards of student conduct also is being updated to reflect these changes, she said.

“There had always been a policy about the prohibition of tobacco products,” Monica Hatchett, HCPS spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “In the recent past, VSBA [Virginia School Boards Association] introduce[d] a separate policy to address e-cigarettes. The proposed policy folds the e-cigarette policy back into the original tobacco policy and replaces ‘e-cigarette’ terminology with ‘nicotine vapor products’ as a catch-all term.

“This struck language but does not, in effect, change the application of the policy or the consequences for violating it.”

A policy on electronic cigarettes is being deleted, as this content is now covered in policies on tobacco products and nicotine vapor products, Landon said.

Also a policy on teaching about drugs, alcohol and tobacco is being revised to reflect that the schools will provide instruction concerning drugs and drug abuse; the public safety hazards and dangers of alcohol abuse, underage drinking and drunk driving; and the health and safety risks of using tobacco products, nicotine vapor products and alternative nicotine products, Landon said.

“This strikes language about encouraging students to seek counseling in a climate without fear of reprisal but leaves the teaching elements intact,” Hatchett wrote. “This language change, the struck language, that is, does not reflect a change in our practices or intentions to encourage students to seek help or to receive counseling.

“Schools are obligated to report to law enforcement known violations of the drug policy; however, we advise our administrators to minimize punitive responses when students self-report substance abuse.”

Landon also outlined other regulation changes that she said have been prompted by the amendment or enactment of Virginia Code or federal regulations:

  • Two changes dealing with policy on conflict of interests and disclosure of economic interests: One change reflects rules that permit school boards to hire family members of the superintendent in certain circumstances if the superintendent and assistant superintendent certify that they had no involvement in the hiring decision and if the assistant superintendent also certifies that the recommendation for the hiring is based on merit, fitness, and the competitive rating of the individual’s qualifications. The second change reflects new requirements that every elected school board member must receive training by the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council within two months after assuming office and after that, at least once during each consecutive period of two calendar years while holding office.
  • A policy dealing with calling and certification of closed meetings reflects new penalties of up to $1,000 that may be imposed if the school board does not comply with Freedom of Information Act requirements relating to certification of closed meetings.
  • A policy dealing with payroll procedures is being updated to reflect that, if the school board sets the school calendar so that the first day students are required to attend occurs before Aug. 15, the board will establish a payment schedule to make sure that all contract personnel are compensated for time worked within the first month of employment.
  • A new policy addresses student safety as it relates to the opening and closing of electronic room partitions in school buildings.
  • A policy about school admission includes sets of changes. One set establishes that military-connected students who will live in the division may register for classes at the same time and in the same manner as students who live in the division. The second set of changes establishes that students who live in a building that sits on the dividing line between school divisions may attend school, without paying tuition, in either school division, Landon said.
  • A policy on student-athlete concussions reflects the new legal requirement that the policy and procedures developed by the superintendent must be updated every two years, Landon said. “This gets simplified language and updates the return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols (spells these out in more detail),” Hatchett said in an email. “The proposed policy calls for biennial review; HCPS already reviews these protocols and the policy on an annual basis through the efforts of the Concussion Management Team, which consists of two central office administrators, both high school activities coordinators, both high school nurses, a local physician, and two student [representatives].”
  • A policy on student records “is changing to state that schools may not disclose the address, phone number or email address of students pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act … unless the parent or eligible student consents to the disclosure. Schools may not release that information as directory information except to students enrolled in the school or to school board employees unless the parent or eligible student has not opted out of the disclosure or has affirmatively given consent for the disclosure,” Landon stated. Hatchett wrote: “This policy represents an effort to reconcile FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] and FOIA laws with the Virginia State Code and its stance on student directory information. It applies an opt-in standard for sharing directory information with outside agencies and applies an opt-out standard for official school purposes. This revision also includes a provision for principals to notify relevant staff any time a protective order has been issued concerning a student with whom that staff has regular contact.”

Landon said the Virginia School Boards Association has verified the policy revisions for legality. The policy revisions will be presented to the Henry County School Board for approval at its meeting on Sept. 5.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

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