Volusia School Board adopts new policies for next academic year. What you need to know. (2024)

DELAND — At one of the last meetings of the school year, the Volusia County School Board adopted a number of new policies, examined further below.

Promotion and Graduation Exercises

The Volusia County School Board unanimously approved adopting proposed amendments to School Board Policy 319 — Promotion and Graduation Exercises.

The current policy only allows students "who have achieved sufficient credits for graduation" to participate in "formal graduation exercises." It was also updated to allow non-seniors to participate.

Media Selection of Print and Non-Print Materials

The board passed Superintendent Carmen Balgobin’s recommendation to adopt the proposed amendments to School Board Policy 320 —Media Selection of Print and Non-Print Materials — with a 4-1 vote and an understanding that this policy will come before the board again.

Anita Burnette opposed.

According to Kevin Pendley, Volusia County School’s general counsel, a handful of substantive changes were made to this policy, which deals with public challenges to school reading material:

  1. Initial conferences can take place remotely with the parties’ mutual consent.
  2. Time-specific language was added, as well as clarification, that says days are calculated as school days, not work days.
  3. A provision was added that says district appeals of the superintendent’s decisions can be appealed at the state level.

This item was met with public comments from Debbie Parker, Jenifer Kelly and Christine Cyrier.

Both Parker and Kelly specifically asked the board to vote against this item.

Kelly, chair of Volusia’s Moms for Liberty chapter, said she has encountered two issues while going through the book-challenge process, one being the “mutual consent” piece.

“(Some) principals have said they just want to do virtual, and some said that they want to meet in person, and I'm being very flexible because I know we're working through this for the first time and trying to figure out the best way to do everything, but in that situation, if we don't mutually agree, who wins?” Kelly asked the board.

Colón said Kelly made a good point and asked if removing “mutual consent” would be a substantive change requiring advertisem*nt. Pendley said yes, “just to be safe.”

Kelly also addressed concerns regarding the committee’s makeup.

“There’s seven members total: the principal, the media specialist, curriculum supervisor, and four parents that aren't Volusia County Schools employees,” she said. “The problem I'm having now is, I met with the principal and the media specialist at the schools. If it's moving forward, that means we didn't agree; but they're on the committee. They're two of those seven people on the committee. They've already made a decision. Everyone knows where the complainant stands. The complainant shouldn't be on any committees, district-level or school-based either.”

Burnette said if a committee member already has a preconceived plan or thought on the book, then the committee is not equal.

“You already know what somebody is going to say, so either party, ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ on either side of it shouldn’t be part of the committee,” she said.

Board Chair Jamie Haynes said those involved in the first meeting should not cast a vote in subsequent meetings.

“I don’t have a problem with them being at the (subsequent) meeting, but I don’t think any of them should have a vote in it because they’ve already cast their vote, which has pushed it to the next level,” she said.

Cyrier was concerned about transparency, and asked the board to create a policy requiring district officials to publish a list of its banned books.

“(Deputy Superintendent) Dr. (Rachel) Hazel and the district media office has told us repeatedly, ‘We do not have to put out what books are being pulled, that we report that to the state at the end of the year.’ And the answer is, ‘No, you do not have to,’ but it shows good faith that you want to be transparent in what books are being pulled,” Cyrier said. “We will keep asking for public records requests, but we shouldn't have to. We keep paying for these public records requests but we shouldn't have to. We just want to know what books are being pulled off the shelves, and hundreds and hundreds of dollars has gone into just finding that list.”

Burnette said she doesn’t see an issue with the district publishing a list of pulled books on its website.

“I see that as us being good stewards,” she said.

Ruben Colón agreed.

Web Management

Volusia’s board unanimously approved a motion to adopt School Board Policy 325 — Web Management.

According to the meeting’s agenda, this new policy is intended to “streamline the organization, management, and accessiblity (sic) of all web-based information for district, school, classroom, and extracurricular activities to ensure the security, continuity, and consistency of data and information.”

Conduct of Employees Regarding Illegal Drug or Alcohol Abuse

The motion to adopt proposed revisions to School Board Policy 415 — Conduct of Employees Regarding Illegal Drug and Alcohol Abuse — passed unanimously.

This policy now states, “An employee of the school board shall not manufacture, distribute, dispense, possess, have in their system or use alcoholic beverages on school grounds, on school board property, or at school board activities (on or off school board property), or illegal drugs at any time and place.”

The policy no longer includes the phrase “at which students are present.” Pendley said that is because, “This was a personnel policy; professional standards requested reduction or redaction of that language.”

Elizabeth Albert, president of Volusia United Educators union, said VUE “fully embrace(s) and stand(s) behind the drug-free workplace.”

She asked the board about the policy’s reference to “school board activities” where alcohol may be present, citing certain FUTURES Foundation events and the Teacher of the Year celebration as potential examples.

Superintendent Balgobin addressed these concerns, saying, “The statement is: they’re not district sponsored events, meaning we are not putting those on.”

Staff and Student Use of AI

Volusia’s board unanimously approved a motion to adopt School Board Policy 428 — Staff and Student Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The policy’s purpose is to provide guidance on how staff and students can use AI, “ensuring its use aligns with our commitment to enhancing education, protecting student data privacy, and maintaining academic integrity.”

Albert asked the board what training has been implemented for this policy and the use of AI in classrooms. She also asked the board to work closely with the district in providing “clear, explicit communication and written guidance that can be distributed and referred to over and over again by our instructional staff” to avoid any potential confusion.

Balgobin said there “absolutely” will be adequate training on this policy.

“This is the policy that Dr. (Matt) Kuhn (chief technology officer) has collaborated with several districts, such as Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and a few other districts that we have generated, which is the very first step,” Balgobin said. “As I've indicated to each of you in your one-on-one, is that during the institute, there will be full training for the administrators, and during the Volusia training that will be taking place for teachers this summer, there will be training there as well.”

Balgobin also said that AI is currently being used in Volusia County Schools without a policy.

“It is being utilized by staff, and it is being utilized by students, currently,” she said. “So we're putting this policy in place, which is suggested, clearly suggested, by the Department of Education, to protect the work that we're doing — teachers and students.”

Staff Use of School District Cellphones

The motion to adopt proposed revisions to School Board Policy 522 — Staff Use of School District Cellular Telephones — passed unanimously.

According to Pendley, these revisions eliminate technological devices — including but not limited to pagers and personal digital assistants — that are no longer in use.

The revisions also include an addition which notes that employees “should conduct school district communications on district owned and maintained systems and hardware” and that “if a personal computer, cellphone, or other device is used for work communications, it is incumbent on the employee to retain any significant work communications that go beyond transitory messages.”

Other items

According to Pendley, the following items proposed no substantive changes.

The revisions were proposed to reflect current statutory development and all items passed unanimously, according to the meeting’s agenda.

Volusia School Board adopts new policies for next academic year. What you need to know. (2024)


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