APS board hears expulsion policies

DOWNTOWN AKRON — During the Nov. 28 meeting of the Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education, two parents of APS students spoke about the ongoing issue of violence in the schools.
The first parent said she has withdrawn both of her children from the district following a physical attack on one of them by a bully while on the playground, and added the board “should be ashamed” for allowing violent students to remain in the district. The second parent criticized Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack’s email communications with parents regarding recent school violence and asked the board how many times they are going to excuse violent behavior.
Per district policy, the Board does not comment on public requests to address them during meetings.
During a Nov. 20 meeting of the Akron Education Association (AEA) — the local teachers’ union — members rejected a fact finder’s recommendations for a new labor contract, with AEA President Pat Shipe saying “our schools are not safe.” The following day, the school board held a special meeting and approved the fact finder’s recommendations. The negotiations will now be determined by mediators.
Board President N.J. Akbar said in a statement that the board has “no intention of negotiating this contract in public” and hopes the mediator will “aid the parties in reaching an agreement on the remaining issues thus avoiding a strike.”
During the meeting, Fowler-Mack provided an update on the district’s Expulsion Review Committee (ERC).
“We want to make sure our educators feel safe and we want to make sure our families know that we are doing everything within our power to ensure that students are safe as well,” she said.
The ERC includes six members appointed by the AEA, with two each representing elementary, middle schools and high schools, as well as six members appointed by Fowler-Mack, including the district’s director of student and family services, an independent hearing officer and four others.
The ERC’s role is to advise and provide input on decisions to expel or not expel a student, and the committee meets twice a month from September through May, according to Fowler-Mack. The number of days a student is expelled may vary based on the severity of the incident. Within 24 hours of an expulsion hearing, committee members receive a summary via email and then they meet to discuss the hearing and make a decision.
Fowler-Mack said the most common infractions referred for expulsion in the first quarter of the 2021-22 school year were 49 fights and 38 physical assaults of staff members. In the same quarter of the current school year, the most common infractions were 35 fights, 38 physical assaults of staff members and 31 serious bodily injuries.
In the first quarter of 2021-22, there were 187 total disciplinary hearing outcomes and no expulsions while in the first quarter of the current school year, there were 249 total disciplinary hearing outcomes and five expulsions. Some of the outcomes included out-of-school suspensions and other disciplinary solutions rather than expulsions.
Akbar asked if the board could see the statistics for the first quarter of the 2019-20 school year as a “better comparison,” since the last two years have been “atypical” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fowler-Mack said that information could be provided.
“We want an environment that is conducive to good teaching and learning, and that starts with everyone feeling safe,” said Fowler-Mack.
Also during the meeting, the board voted 6-1 to approve a policy regarding employee and student names and pronouns, brought forth by the Legal, Contracts and Board Policy Committee. Board member Carla Jackson was the sole ‘no’ vote.
The policy states APS personnel should use an employee or student’s legal name indicated on their birth certificate or authorized substitute document. But, according to the policy, if an employee or student “expresses a desire to use a first name (chosen name) that differs from the first name that is part of the [employee’s or student’s] legal name or chosen pronouns, personnel shall work with the [employee or student and/or parent/guardian] on an individualized basis to use [their] chosen name and/or chosen pronouns” at work and school as permitted by law.
Board members approved the following:
• accepting the retirements of Lorri Beadling, Sharon Cunningham, Gail Harr, Christine Illig, Ellen Luebbering, Mark Shannon, Vickie Stone and Zoran Vukotic; and
• accepting donations including 150 $20 Acme gift cards (valued at $3,000) from Ohio Comp/Minute Men to the I PROMISE School; $1,000 from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for Case CLC to maintain the supplies in the Case Closet; and 40 self-guided tour tickets ($840) from Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens to East CLC’s Business Hospitality pathway program for students and their families.
In other business, Athletic Director Joe Vassalotti said the district had nearly 200 fall-sport athletes named All-City Academics and recognized the district’s fall City Series champions, including the Buchtel Community Learning Center (CLC) football team, Ellet CLC girls soccer team, Firestone CLC boys and girls cross-country teams and volleyball team, North High School boys soccer team and for the first time in school history, the North girls tennis team.
The next APS board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 10 N. Main St. It will also be available to watch online at youtube.com/akronschools.