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Schools update policies on guns, drugs, social media

Proposed rules follow strictures of new state laws

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

STERLING – In general, the annual tweaking of school handbooks tends to draw little attention.

This year, though, a few proposed additions to policies in Sterling Public Schools might be worthy of a little more public interest, as those changes have been proposed in response to new state laws that deal with developing social issues, including guns, social media, and medical marijuana.

This routine procedure of policy review also will be undertaken in other school districts.

The following changes, which will be added to student or personnel handbooks, are up for a first reading at Wednesday’s meeting of the Sterling School Board, and will be voted on at the May 13 meeting.

Social media

Made in response to the state’s Right to Privacy in the School Setting Act (Public Act 98-129), which took effect Jan. 1, this change allows school officials to “request or require” passwords or other access to a student’s social networking sites, but “only if there is reasonable cause to believe that the student’s account contains evidence that he or she violated a school disciplinary rule or board policy.”

The policy applies to all posts, public or private, posted from school or any other site, including a student’s home, especially those that include “violence against others, bullying, harassment and intimidation, alcohol and/or substance abuse, weapon usages and any other content that violates the student code of conduct.”

The act does not include access to a student’s email.

Teachers and others in the schools already are subject to similar rules, said Jerry Binder, the district’s human resources director.

Medical marijuana

Another change to Sterling school policy prohibits “the use or possession of medical cannabis, even by a student for whom medical cannabis has been prescribed.”

The state’s Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act (Public Act 98-122) prohibits the possession or use of marijuana at any preschool, primary or secondary school, or on a school bus.

As always, “students who are under the influence of any prohibited substance are not permitted to attend school or school functions and are treated as though they had drugs or paraphernalia, as applicable, in their possession,” the policy states.

And, as part of its Equal Employment Opportunity policy, the board will add language stating that “no one will be penalized solely for his or her status” as a patient qualified to use medical marijuana.

Concealed carry

Weapons of any type always have been banned from school property, school-sponsored activities, and “any event that bears a reasonable relationship to school.” New wording prohibits all weapons regardless of whether “a student is licensed to carry a concealed firearm.”

That’s in keeping with the requirement’s of the state’s new Concealed Carry Act (Public Act 98-63).

Violation carries a mandatory expulsion of 1 year, but that can be extended to up to 2 years. The superindent can modify the punishment, however, on a case-by-case basis.

The new policy also prohibits visitors who are licensed to carry concealed firearms from bringing them to a school, and that’s even if the board has given them prior permission to store them in a locked vehicle in a school parking area.

E-cigs

Another change adds e-cigarettes or other “look-alike products” to the list of tobacco materials that students cannot use, bring, possess or distribute at school.

The full text of the new laws can be viewed at ilga.gov, the state Legislature’s website.

To attend

The Sterling School Board meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month in the Sterling High School library, 1608 Fourth Ave.

The next meeting, this Wednesday, will begin with a closed session at 6 p.m. The open session is scheduled for 7 p.m.

For an agenda for this meeting or minutes from past meetings, go to www.sterlingpublicschools.org and click on Board of Education.

Call the district office at 815-626-5050 for more information.

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