Student and faculty handbooks were approved by the Neosho R-5 school board this week but some revisions are in order.

Debate was prompted by board member Steven Douglas, attending remotely by videoconference, who expressed an interest in the board holding discussion about bringing back the valedictorian and salutatorian to graduation.

Dan Decker, superintendent, said the school district went away from honoring a valedictorian and salutatorian a few years ago, and went to a system where students are recognized for achieving summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude.

“Really, to honor more students.” he explained. “There are a lot of schools moving in that direction.”

Decker said some board members and patrons in the community have expressed that valedictorian and salutatorian is still a very important distinction, and have asked that more consideration be given to that issue.

Decker said the major question to answer is: “Can we meld the two? Can we still have the laude system and honor all of those kids in that, but then at the end say, ‘Here’s No. 1 and here’s No. 1,’ we still have a valedictorian and salutatorian?”

He said the issue was first brought up just prior to graduation this year, too late to enact changes. Decker expects the board will take up the issue at its next work session, and will look to see if that is something they want to reinstitute this year, or continue discussions before possibly making that move for the Class of 2016.

Douglas also has issues with wording in the student handbook that mandates suspension for a student who is involved in a fight. He said a student could be assaulted by another and if they then turned around to defend themselves in any way, would be subject to the same penalty as their attacker.

Douglas added, “I see some hypocrisy here because last year we did some training on ‘intruder on campus’ in school and urged our kids to fight back in the classroom if an intruder comes in, so it’s OK if the school district advocates you can fight back, but if you fight back in the hallway by yourself it’s not.”

He said the policy now encourages a child to take a beating.

Decker said the district normally uses Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) policies to stay in compliance legally on myriad issues, including disciplining students. He explained that the current policy states that if a student would come from behind and punch another, and the second student defends themselves, that is constituted as fighting.

“Both of those students will be suspended,” Decker said. “Now one may be suspended a little longer than the other, but both students will be punished. Where the rub is, basically we don’t want our kids to not be able to defend themselves, and by keeping the policy the way it is, we’re telling our students they can’t defend themselves, they have to let somebody hit them or do whatever they want in order to not be punished.”

He said the board and administration will analyze the wording of the policy and make revisions so that students who simply fend off an attack will not be subject to automatic suspension. Decker said any changes must then be sent back to MSBA attorneys for approval.

Decker said another handbook revision is necessitated by a miscommunication, as the handbook states that high school students attending the Crowder Vo-Tech on Friday afternoons must furnish their own transportation. He said transportation will be provided for those students, and the handbook will be revised to state that.

The board of education set the annual budget hearing for their August meeting, during which the local tax rate will be established.

“Right now it’s going to be the same as it was last year,” Decker said. “I don’t foresee us increasing, the only thing that would be different if the bond issue does pass, then the tax rate will be a little bit different because we’ll have some debt service.”

The school district has placed a $24 million bond issue on the Aug. 5 ballot to construct a junior high school. If approved, that is expected to incur a 24-cent increase in the school tax levy.

Meanwhile, the school board celebrated some special athletes. Coach Keith Patterson was joined with several members of the Team Missouri Magic Girls basketball team that won the silver medal at the USA Special Olympic games held in New Jersey from June 14-20, 2014.

The four special athletes on the team from Neosho High School or who are past graduates reported to the school board, including Dominque Dechant, who graduated in 2013, and Lashayla Gillespie graduated in 2014. Makayla Slawter will be a senior and Azalea Ray is a junior in the coming school year.

Dechant reported to the board that the athletes enjoyed evening activities while not competing.

“That included a cruise around New York Harbor where we got to see the Statue of Liberty,” she said.

After losing the gold medal game to Ohio, Dechant said it was very emotional when Coach Patterson cut down the net.

“And when we got the medals, that was very emotional,” she repeated.

Patterson praised his athletes for being great ambassadors for Neosho.

“Hard working, they paid attention, they hustled, they did everything a coach could ask. Patterson concluded, “They represented us very well. You ought to be very proud of them. They were always up front, they never got behind, they’re full of life, they’re full of fun. It was just amazing – for myself – And I know it was for them. You ought to be proud of them!”