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In light of what they viewed as unwarranted school suspensions, parents who recently appealed disciplinary actions taken against their children plan to attend and speak out at the Oct. 10 meeting of the Calvert County Board of Education.

During the meeting, the board plans to address the school system’s policy regarding look-alike weapons, an issue the board felt the need to address due to an increase in student suspensions regarding children pointing their fingers like guns, mentioning guns and carrying toy guns. In addition, the board plans to address the issue many parents have regarding the amount of time lapsed between when an incident occurs and when a parent is notified.

Most recently, an 11-year-old sixth-grade boy at Mill Creek Middle School was given in-school suspension for one day after forming his hand in the shape of a gun and pointing toward another student. Carin Read of Lusby said her son was on the bus going to school Tuesday, Aug. 27, when the incident occurred. Read was notified that her son was serving a one-day in-school suspension Wednesday morning — 26 hours later, Read said.

“I found it extremely discouraging and upsetting with the fact that I was called 26 hours later,” Read said.

After appealing her son’s suspension to the vice principal and the school board, because she found the punishment to be “outlandish” and “ridiculous,” Read received a letter from Molly Gearhart, supervisor of student services for Calvert County Public Schools. In the letter, Read said Gearhart not only mentioned reviewing comments made by Read that Read said never occurred, but she said Gearhart also failed to accurately address her complaint.

“The problem I have with this letter is that I never denied my son made the gesture,” Read said. “Had she spoken to me and found out what my problem was, the letter would have turned out different.”

In the letter, Gearhart wrote the punishment would stand because, based on evidence taken from the school bus recording and conversations with the students involved, Read’s son made “a deliberate inappropriate gesture toward another student on the bus.”

Read now plans to appeal the decision to Kim Roof, the executive director of administration for the school system.

“I think the action was wrong and overbearing,” Read said. “I also think it was absolutely ridiculous it took 26 hours to contact the parent and my son was already being punished.”

Nancy V. Highsmith, interim superintendent of schools, said school officials are unable to offer comment on appeals regarding student discipline because of confidentiality laws.

“We do have federal and state guidelines with confidentiality,” Highsmith said. “It’s not that we’re trying to hide anything, but we have to make sure we follow the proper guidelines ourselves.”

Board of Education member Joe Chenelly has been a longtime advocate for a policy clarification outlining what an “appropriate amount of time” is for school administrators to wait before contacting parents.

“That’s bigger than the weapons policy itself,” Chenelly said. “[School officials] already had a full investigation and there was plenty of time to notify the parents.”

Highsmith said the school system always tries to notify parents immediately in the case of child discipline. However, because of circumstances that often arise during an investigation, she said time can “get away.”

“If it’s very involved and we have to interview a number of students and adults, depending on what the circumstance is, that takes time,” Highsmith said. “We want to work cooperatively with parents — we’re a partnership — and we want to work with them and be sure to always get the story right.”

Highsmith added that once parents drop their children off at school, CCPS becomes the official guardian for that child and it is the system’s responsibility to keep them safe. Because of that, the system has the right to question and talk to children in the event of a questionable incident.

“What is an appropriate amount of time? That all depends on the situation,” Highsmith said.

“I think [people] have to keep in mind that we have a responsibility to our students and staff that we provide a safe environment and that sometimes, depending on people’s perceptions of what a safe environment are, those lines get blurred, but our ultimate goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for all students and staff,” Highsmith said. “Every situation is different, and you can’t lump them all together and say this is how you proceed.”

Chenelly, who created a YouTube account for Calvert County Public Schools to upload footage of board meetings, said he plans to read every submitted comment regarding the weapons policy and make sure everyone’s opinion is heard.

“I certainly hope people take this opportunity to have their voice heard,” Chenelly said. “It’s really important that the board and staff there know what the public think about these situations and their policies.”

Because of the incident with her son, Read said she plans to attend the board of education’s meeting on Oct. 10.

“Nothing is going to change if people don’t stand up and say something, which is why I have every intention to attend the meeting,” Read said.

The meeting will take place at the Board of Education builiding at 1305 Dares Beach Road in Prince Frederick, at 10 a.m. The agenda for the meeting can be found on the CCPS website under the “Board of Ed” tab closer to the meeting date. Public comments for the weapons policy can be submitted under Policies for Review, http://www.calvertnet.k12.md.us/departments/administration/policies/forreview/policiesforreview.asp. Comments will be accepted until Oct. 8.

snewman@somdnews.com