West Las Vegas High School Principal Gene Parson wants new policies on tattoos, facial piercings and students with many unexcused absences.
Parson said all sorts of things have been tried over the last couple of years to stop kids from skipping class.
“We are often questioned about why students are allowed to pass with a huge amount of absences. It’s time we do something about it,” Parson said during a discussion on the student handbook at a recent school board meeting.
The principal read a list of consequences if the student didn’t produce a valid excuse within a 24-hour period. He said there were opportunities for appeal and discussions with parents and possibly the Juvenile Probation Office when things go really sour.
“If a student has 15 days of unexcused absences, they will fail the class. That’s three solid weeks of school. The student will be removed from the class and be put in a school community service program until the end of the term. Allowances will be made for students experiencing a long-term illness or circumstances beyond their control,” Parson said.
Parson said there have been situations where a student will come to school for one period and then find an excuse to go home. He said a typical scenario is a student claiming to have a migraine headache.
“It’s one excuse after another, on a day-in and day-out basis. When you turn around, they have missed 15, 30, 45 days. They then come to school for two or three days before the excuses begin again,” Parson said.
He said early intervention is the key.
“If the student or parents are not diligent enough to let us know they missed class for a legitimate reason, then there should be a penalty to pay,” Parson said.
When questioned how parents are notified, Parson said the process begins right away; after three unexcused absences, a letter is sent to parents; after five, a letter and a contract with parents is sent; with 10 absences, a more strict contract is brought to parents; if they violate that, they go to a juvenile probation officer for potential prosecution.
“It’s infectious,” Parson said. “Keep in mind these are unexcused absences. It would take a kid or a parent not caring or intentionally violating the rules (for us to act). We’re just trying to protect the child.”
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Members were told that new language in the handbook calls for cell phone rules to be strictly enforced. They were told first offenders would have their phones locked up for two weeks. He again went through a long and detailed list of violations occurring daily and why the restrictions were necessary.
School board member Gary Gold said, “This is wonderful, I think we need to put our foot down on cell phones, but cell phones confiscated for two weeks? I don’t really think you can hold somebody’s property that long.”
Parson recounted a number of instances where students who had violated the policy would use their friends’ phones or would sneak their own phones onto school grounds again and again.
Gold suggested the district could face litigation by taking away someone’s property.
Vice Principal John Bustos defended his boss, telling the board that school districts around the country are facing these same problems with cell phone abuse. He said many schools have similar policies concerning confiscation.
Bustos said while many parents are sympathetic, they don’t have any better luck keeping the cell phone hidden and often give in to their child’s demand to get their phone back.
“If parents come to us, we will work with them on this policy. But we do whatever we can to effectuate the rules,” Parson said.
Board president Christine Ludi said, “There are school districts that have banned cell phones altogether.”
Parson said if the board was worried about getting sued, it might want to seek an attorney’s advice on the length of time phones can be held.
“All I’m telling you is the law says property can only be confiscated for a reasonable time, and when a parent comes (for the property), you’ve got to release it to them,” Gold said. “I’m just trying to prevent a lawsuit.”
Member Caroline Lopez said the laws are evolving.
“No one realized this was going to be such a big problem, with the texting and evolving technology. So I think we’d be OK with this, to tell you the truth,” Lopez said.
Parson said his school tested the two-week confiscation policy last year, and it seemed to work well.
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Parson said some of the toughest rules to enforce are the restrictions on tattoos and piercings.
“Tattoos that are offensive or vulgar must be covered. Whether it’s a Playboy bunny, marijuana plant, a swastika or a gang symbol, and it may ultimately be me making that decision,” Parson said.
Parson said facial piercing is popular with the younger generation, with piercings in unlikely places like under the eye, on the nose, lips, chin, and even embedded under the skin.
He said states such as Texas have taken issue with earrings because during fights that’s the first thing girls go for.
“My recommendation was that until we have an issue with that, we will concentrate on having students covering or removing facial piercings, which has become a big battle,” Parson said.
Parson said another addition to the handbook would include a policy informing students that all school rules are in effect during any and all West Las Vegas school activities.
“We’ve always told kids this, but we’ve never put it in writing. We’re making it a rule, so they will know that if we have a state playoff, they will behave accordingly,” Parson said.