Major Changes to PHS Handbook

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Major changes are coming to Piggott High School this fall, with the recent changes approved for the student handbook.

Every year PHS, like many schools, goes through the rules and guidelines laid out in the student handbook and make updates to the preexisting list. Inspired by events from the previous year and changes from other schools in the area, new revisions are pitched and then voted on by the school board.

In an interview concerning the new changes to the handbook, interim superintendent Barry DeHart explained how the new rules are created for the next year.

He said, “We have a committee every year that goes through our handbook, and during the course of the year our teachers and administrators make notes about things that have been disruptive, or things that have got out of hand, things that we need to look at as a committee at the end of the year.”

This committee consists of teachers, administrators and even students who work together to create the changes brought before the school board. These changes are the result of consistent disciplinary actions, new standards of learning from other schools and to get ahead of the curve on approaching trends.

Starting in August, major changes to rules concerning cell phone policy, cafeteria charges and other debt and changes to how honor graduates are handled will keep students and parents are their toes while other minor changes round out the overall revisions.

The most important change coming this fall will revolve around the new student debt policy.

Now, students who accumulate $50 or more in debt will see major punishments placed upon them. These punishments included being banned from involvement with extracurricular activities, and mandatory attendance of semester tests until the debt is payed. This debt policy is an important step to reducing the impact of unpaid debt on the school. The biggest contributor to this change was the reoccurring problem of lunchroom debt.

Last year, lunchroom debt cost the school approximately $8,700; while paying anywhere from $6,000-$10,000 is common for the school, according to DeHart, they are trying to alleviate the problem.

This policy is not just set in place to punish students; the policy is also designed to prevent students from accumulating too much debt. If a student shows they are willing to pay off their debt, but maybe money is tight then the school is willing to work with them.

“If a student owes money and they're paying a little bit at a time then I know, from where I'm standing, that I will make sure that we look into that and help that kid continue to participate,” said DeHart.

Parents of students who reach the limit will be informed about the situation so they can begin working with the school to pay the debt.

“We also want to encourage everyone to fill out an application for free and reduced lunches,” he offered. “Even if they're not sure if they'll qualify, they should fill out an application.”

Another important change comes in the form of the cellphone policy. The current cellphone policy allows them to be used only in the cafeteria during lunch time. If a student is caught using their phone in class without prior permission, or in the halls, they could now face severe penalties.

The first offense will result in one day of in-school suspension, on the second offense three days of out of school suspension going up to five days on the third offense. These punishments are designed to target the problem of cellphones disrupting the classroom.

DeHart said, “We wanted to make it known that the first time you may forget to not have your cell phone in class or the hallway, that its just a day of in-school suspension, but if you do it again then at that point maybe you're not really wanting to follow that rule. So three days out of school is a severe punishment for that because you choose to use that cell phone.” He continued by clarifying that using the cellphone referred to actually calling or texting in class, and no punishment will be given if it accidently goes off in class, or falls out, unless it becomes disruptive.

DeHart said students will be given one, and only one warning, about the new cellphone policy on the first day of class.

This change of cellphone policy is similar to the many changes throughout the years to make cellphone use more or less strict. DeHart commented on how this differed from previous years, and what was required of students.

“It was a problem when we use to say no cellphones at all, but now they can use their cellphones at lunch,” DeHart said. “So that gives you an opportunity to use your cellphone, what we ask is that when lunch is over and you go back to class, that it is the right of the teacher to not be disrupted by you on your phone.”

The last major change came with the alteration of how honor graduates would be handled. Starting with the class which are freshmen this year there will no longer be a valedictorian and salutatorian for each class. DeHart explained why this change was made for PHS.

“All the other schools that we've talked to, the majority of them, have done away with valedictorian and salutatorian,” DeHart said.

He continued by citing other reasons for removing the positions including the lack of monetary gain from the titles, the potential unfairness caused by student schedules and weighted classes and the difficulty of choosing between students with scores within one-hundredth of a point.

Instead of valedictorian and salutatorian, now any student with a grade point average over a 4.0 will have the opportunity to speak for a maximum of two minutes during graduation.

Some noteworthy minor changes coming this fall include changes to the dress code, such as not allowing hats to be worn on campus, and the addition of strapless blouses and dresses to the list of inappropriate clothing. Also changed was the removal of ripped and torn clothing from those considered unacceptable, as long as the rips/tears do not show anything inappropriate.

Other minor changes include how tardies are handled during first period, as students will now sign-in when they arrive late, and the inclusion of two new course requirements for graduation. Personal and Family Finance focuses on teaching students financial skills they will need later in life, and was mandated by the Arkansas General Assembly. Meanwhile, students must also pass the Civics Citizenship Test which is the test naturalized citizens are required to take to gain citizenship into the country. The inclusion of the Civics Citizenship Test as a required test is a new federal mandate to help students better understand the inner workings of the government and national history, and goes into effect next year.

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