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Insurance issues for student trips hot topic for BOE

Board debates risk in light of bus tragedy in Atlanta

Major discussion focused on the issue of risk and liability when transporting students during last week’s Bulloch County Board of Education meeting. The tragic accident in Atlanta, resulting in the deaths of several Ohio baseball players, showed the need to establish protocol for educational and extracurricular trips.
    Charles Wilson, assistant superintendent of Business and Finance, and BOE attorney Susan Cox presented findings from their exploration of insurance options, most of which resulted in more questions than answers.
    Board Member Edwin Hill asked if risks could be assumed by a parent or guardian. Cox said that more is involved than harm to children. Parental waivers do not cover the possible harm to someone else that could be caused by school children. Sovereign immunity issues arise depending on whether incidents occur in state vs. out-of-state or on a school bus vs. a chartered bus. For example, Washington, D.C., and the states of New York, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida do not recognize Georgia’s sovereign immunity, a doctrine which lends some protection to the school system from lawsuits.
    Edwin Hill and Kenny Stone proposed that the board seek guidance from an insurance consultant in reviewing the various types of trips and types of insurance that would best meet the needs for these trips.
    In light of this discussion, board members approved a PRIDE Youth Progam Study Trip to Charleston, W.Va., April 11-14, for Southeast Bulloch Middle and High Schools and Langston Chapel Middle School. Parents or guardians of students going on the trip will receive an updated parental out-of-state waiver and other new insurance forms.
    The board did not approve a Portal High graduation trip to Orlando on April 27. Superintendent Jessie Strickland recommended that the board not approve this trip because there was no need to sponsor it. Since parents are in charge of arranging the trip, the students can go anyway without board approval.
    A vote was tabled for a Statesboro High cheerleading camp trip to Daytona Beach, Fla., in July to allow for more investigation into insurance arrangements.

SEB Middle principal
    During the public participation portion of the meeting, three citizens spoke in support of SEB Middle School principal Alan Putz, whose contract was not renewed this year. Putz replaced former principal Ed Davis last June.
    Susan Pertalion, who also spoke at a previous board meeting in support of Putz, questioned the board concerning the legality of its decision to dismiss Putz based on board policy. In rebuttal, BOE attorney Susan Cox said the policy cited by Pertalion does not apply to Putz because he is not a tenured employee.
    James Varner, a SEB Middle student spoke on Putz’s behalf: “As a student who has attended SEBMS for three years, I want to know why he can’t stay.” Varner said that even though he will be at the high school next year, he would like to have Putz there for his brother, who will be at the middle school next year.
    Also, Nancy Thigpen addressed the board on Putz’s behalf. She is the parent of two SEB Middle children and is pleased with Putz’s influence on the school. She said: “Mr. Putz has told us parents that he has not been involved in any wrongdoing … When will you tell us parents and taxpayers why you dismissed Mr. Putz?”
    Superintendent Jessie Strickland said “It is a personnel decision, and we can’t legally discuss it with you. I can guarantee you that it is the toughest decision you will have to make.”
Other business
  - Keep Bulloch Beautiful director Brooke Carney presented Mill Creek Elementary with a $500 check from the Community Beautification Assistance Program, which supplies funds for the beautification of public areas for the benefit of the community.
    She also said that Bulloch County has the only program in the state for recycling plastic milk bottles. The School Nutrition Program directed by Kathy Szotkiewicz switched to plastic milk bottles in an effort to get more students to drink milk after a survey revealed that students said the milk was colder, tasted better and was just “cooler” in plastic bottles.
  - Dr. Fran Stevens, Director of Curriculum for grades 6 through 12, and Dr. Jody Woodrum, Director of Curriculum for grades K through 5, presented an SAT/ACT Packet they compiled to help parents understand various tests and programs for college-bound students. These packets contain a summary of information and a comparison chart for the SAT and ACT tests, as well as information on the PSAT, Duke Tip Program, COMPASS Test, and Web site information. All parents will be provided with the packets.
  - Errol Dreyfuss and John Wacha with the Ombudsman Program presented an overview of the student progress made using the program. Ombudsman is a program for middle and high school students who have difficulty in a regular classroom setting.
  - The Ombudsman setting is more like a business setting with an employer/employee relationship. The students have certain expectations regarding time, dress and the amount of work required from them.
    The goal of the program is to improve math and reading skills. Currently 90 to 100 students in Bulloch County benefit from the program. Increases in grade levels were indicated in all areas.
    Ombudsmand High School Manager Jonathon McCullar read from student testimonials praising the program. One student said, “I like Ombudsman better than regular school. There’s no fighting or talking.”

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