Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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THE PUBLIC ASKS: Did superintendent exceed authority, violate ABSS policy by imposing suspension for pranks?

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QUESTION: Did Alamance-Burlington superintendent Dr. Dain Butler overstep the school system’s own procedure by unilaterally suspending the 86 ABSS high school students who were identified as having participated in the so-called “senior pranks” late last month?

Some parents are complaining that the superintendent usurped the authority of his high school principals because the ABSS policy says that short-term suspensions (i.e., those up to 10 days) are to be imposed only by the principal.

ANSWER: No. ABSS officials confirmed for The Alamance News this week that a provision within the ABSS Code of Student Conduct (section 2E, enforcement of “serious violations” of the code of conduct) authorizes the superintendent to impose any greater or lesser punishment for misconduct that he deems appropriate.

“The suspensions were issued by the [principals and other school administrators] which is within their authority,” ABSS public information officer Les Atkins told the newspaper Monday. “Dr. Butler did give guidance to ensure consistency.”

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ABSS school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves and school superintendent Dr. Dain Butler at press conference Thursday afternoon, June 1.

Butler and school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves had announced earlier this month that – due to the seriousness of the “pranks” and more than $4,000 in damages they caused – all of the students involved, including 82 seniors and four underclassmen, would be suspended for the remainder of the year and the seniors would be barred from attending their graduation ceremonies, held two weeks ago.

That provision states, “The superintendent is responsible for supervising the enforcement of the Code of Student Conduct to ensure that school disciplinary policies are uniformly and fairly applied throughout the school system.”

ABSS principals are responsible for enforcing that portion of the Code of Student Conduct that deals with behavioral problems at school.

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Those “student behavior policies” include: Failure to follow instructions from school personnel; dress code violations; academic integrity; going onto the campus of a school other than the one to which the student is assigned during the school day without permission; attendance; interpersonal behavior; use of tobacco and electronic devices; misbehavior on buses; bullying/harassment; threats, false acts, and acts of terror; misuse of a fire alarm system; gambling; inappropriate language; fighting; gambling; assault; extortion; theft; and possession of a weapon on school property, among other violations. Those policies are also codified within the state’s public education laws.

Some parents and students have characterized those consequences as the maximum punishment possible, but the students involved could have been expelled, under the ABSS Code of Student Conduct.

However, a separate state law implores public school officials to minimize the use of expulsions and long-term suspensions.

ABSS officials have repeatedly told The Alamance News that they “are not aware” that any ABSS principal (specifically, Dr. Helena Thomas, then-principal at Williams High School; Dr. Whitney Fliehman, then-principal at Eastern High School and now principal of the Alamance-Burlington Early College; and Southern High School principal Teresa Faucette, who retires June 30) had given their students permission to do their “pranks.”

Some have claimed that Thomas or an assistant principal was on the Williams High School campus, which sustained the most damage, the night of May 25 and told students it was okay to do their pranks – providing it was before 9:00 p.m., when the alarm would be set. (Thomas, who initially had been transferred to Cummings on June 14, has since accepted a position with another school system.)

Williams has four assistant principals: Marlene Bennett; Robert Dail; Steven Fine; and Kristen Saunders Rivera. None of their names were listed among the reassignments, contract non-renewals, “separations,” and other personnel changes that school board members approved last week. Curry Bryan took over as principal at Williams High School last week.


THE PUBLIC ASKS: Have a question about a matter of public record? Call The Alamance News at (336) 228-7851; write to the newspaper at P.O. Box 431, Graham, NC 27253; or e-mail alamancenews@mail.com.

If it’s a topic in the public domain — a matter of public record, including issues of government, courts, etc. — we’ll try to find the answer and print it in ‘The Public Asks’ column. (Please furnish as much complete and specific information as possible.)

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