The topics of coronavirus, seat belts on buses, grants, and the high school exemption policy dominated the Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.

All board members were present, and this was President Brian Berry’s final meeting. He has served for eight years, and his seat will be filled during the April meeting. He said he is proud to have been a part of the board.

“It's been a great honor to be a part of the board and to work with the distinguished board members who have come through over the years. It's been an honor to work with [former Superintendent] Ms. [Lisa] Presley and [Superintendent] Mr. [Leon] Ashlock,” said Berry. “We've made great strides and the schools have experienced great successes from band to sports to academics. TPS is financially strong and stable, and I see no change on the horizon to change that. The board and administration has the best interests of the students.”

Multiple discussions were held concerning the high school exemption policy. Vicki Bush, THS principal, gave a presentation, and a concerned parent addressed the board, after another parent brought up the topic during the February meeting. The policy is in place to encourage attendance and passing grades. If a high school student has both of those, he or she may be exempt from semester tests usually given on the last two days of school.

"It's hard to justify doctors' notes and decide which illnesses to accept," said Bush.

Ashlock pointed out a big segment of the Oklahoma School Report Cards is attendance.

Tanya Jones, director of Federal Programs and Indian Education, gave a presentation on the School Climate Transformation Grant. This five-year Safe and Drug-Free School and Communities grant awards the district $745,798 per budget year. The project will add more professional development training, counseling and intervention to students dealing with trauma or other issues, programs for parents, and more.

“We’re trying to tie everything back to Tigers ROAR – Removing Obstacles Achieving Results,” said Jones. “With these goals, we’re not changing anything. We’re just enhancing what we’re already doing.”

One topic brought up by Ed Myers during a previous board meeting was seatbelts on district buses. Brad Jones presented research on the topic, and said only six states have laws requiring seat belts on buses. He addressed the pros and cons of having seat belts, as well as what the cost would be to have them installed.

Ashlock reported the district received around $16,000 more than last year from the Cherokee Nation during its Public School Appreciation Day. TPS received $320,149.16. He also updated the board on state legislation to watch: ad valorem taxes, teacher certification, and charter schools.

The coronavirus was a topic addressed by Ashlock, as it is a concern for student and community safety. It has caused the Special Olympics regional track meet in Tahlequah to be canceled, he said.

“The custodial staff have been advised to be extra vigilant, especially in high-traffic areas,” he said. “If one of our students tested positive, we’d have no choice but to shut down the school.”

Policy changes approved included adding vape products to the drug-free policy. The district has installed vape detectors, and has plans to purchase more, as DeAnn Mashburn, executive director of curriculum and personnel, said vaping is an issue at the middle and high schools.

All agenda items were approved, except for making changes to the superintendent evaluation process.

What’s next

The Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education will meet April 21 at 6 p.m. in the Board Conference Room, 225 N. Water Ave.

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