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Florida teacher suspended after students flashed breasts, twerked in classroom, report says

A Duval County teacher is suspended without pay after students allegedly flashed their breasts and twerked in his classroom.

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District officials began investigating after a school secretary heard about alleged inappropriate activity inside Brent Sawdy's seventh grade classroom on May 2.

Students had just gotten back to Lake Shore Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida, after a field trip when Sawdy told them they could work on school work or talk with friends in class, a police report says.

Sawdy put on a movie and worked quietly at his desk while the students talked, according to the report.

The report says the students got bored and someone suggested playing "Dirty Dare."

They began the game by daring each other to kiss one another, according to the report.

During the game, two girls allegedly exposed their breasts and a boy licked or kissed the girls' breast, the report says.

One student said she saw a student twerking on a boy and another student "sat on all the boys' laps" in the classroom.

When asked about what happened, Sawdy said he did not hear anyone say anything about playing "Truth or Dare" and did not see students do anything questionable.

He said he saw a male student slap a girl's leg. He took the student outside and told him that kind of playing could get him in trouble, he told investigators.

Investigators determined that Sawdy failed to provide adequate supervision in his classroom.

He was suspended without pay, according to documents.

School apologizes after teacher says students can't wear 'Make America Great Again' shirts

A high school teacher in Cherokee County, Georgia, recently expelled two students from her class for wearing T-shirts supportive of President Donald Trump.

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The incident happened Thursday in a math class at River Ridge High School in Woodstock, Georgia. 

"Her actions were wrong as the 'Make America Great Again' shirts worn by the students are not a violation of our School District dress code," a statement from the Cherokee County School District read. 

The school district told WSB-TV the teacher "additionally, and inappropriately, shared her personal opinion about the campaign slogan during class." 

Chief communications officer Barbara P. Jacoby said the school's principal met with and apologized to the students who were the class, in addition to their families.

Dr. Brian V. Hightower, the superintendent of schools, said he is deeply sorry the incident happened in one of the district’s schools, and that "it does not reflect his expectation that all students be treated equally and respectfully by our employees."

The school has not released any disciplinary action taken against the teacher at this time; however, it says that no students will face disciplinary action.

Girl not allowed to play football, prompts debate at private schools

Megan Garth, an all-area soccer player at Prince Avenue Christian School in Bogart, Georgia, discovered things she didn’t know about football this summer.

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The first was that she’s a pretty good field-goal kicker. With some help from Prince Avenue football coaches, Garth learned in just a couple of weeks to make extra points reliably and to kick field goals of 30 yards. Coaches told her that she might be the best kicker in the school. Garth was eager to join the team.

But Garth then discovered that her school would not allow it. As do many private schools, Prince Avenue has a policy that prevents girls from joining boys’ teams or boys from joining girls’ teams. Garth’s final appeal to the school’s board of directors was denied late last week.

“We’re obviously disappointed and we disagree, but we love Prince Avenue Christian and the people there, and we respect the decision and the deliberation,” said Branham Garth, Megan’s father.

Students have supported Garth, a senior who scored a team-leading 25 goals last season on the soccer pitch. A petition with some 300 student signatures was given to the administration in support of her cause. The high school enrollment is 275. Petitions also made their way to other local schools.

“I know that is probably not the politically correct answer, but we have boys sports and girls sports, and I believe we should stick with that,” football coach Wayne Brantley at Georgia’s Landmark Christian school said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We would not allow a boy to play girls basketball. Think of what might happen if that can of worms was opened -- a 6’7, 255-pound boy dominating in girls basketball.”

Brantley also cited concerns of safety and privacy.

“One big reason for me is the possibility of severe injury for the young lady,” he said. “Also, there is no way she could dress or shower in the same locker room. If I were to really take a little time, I could probably write you a book on why it’s not a good idea. Our main goal at Landmark in football is to build strong men who are warriors. We have other programs designed to build women of character.”

According to the Georgia High School Association’s 2016-17 participation survey, there were 49 girls playing football in Georgia last season. One of them, Lauren Pearson of Thomas County Central, made her all-region team as a kicker.

There were 1,992 girls playing football nationwide, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. That’s about one girl for every 532 boys among the 1.06 million who played the game last year.

Prince Avenue Christian head of school Col. Seth Hathaway provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with a lengthy statement explaining his school’s position. It cited the school’s religious tenets, the covenant between the school and its Christian parents and a commitment to “uphold its community standards and the conservative temperament of the school.”

Hathaway expressed concern over precedents. He noted that a previous request by a male student to be on the cheerleading squad had been denied. He particularly stressed the need to establish guidelines that applied sensibly to a school that has students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

“While the school recognizes the changing roles of girls in organized sports, its covenantal partnership does not support the belief that mixed athletic contact sports should traverse a spectrum from high school varsity all the way down to the second grade,” Hathaway said in the statement. “This is a challenge unique to a Pre-K to 12 school that is not a factor in traditional ninth to 12th grade high schools.”

According to Hathaway, Prince Avenue Christian is not subject to Title IX provisions regarding mixed-athletic competition because the school does not accept federal funding.

Many other private schools do allow girls to play. This year, Hebron Christian, a Gwinnett County school, has a female kicker, Payton Johnson. Hebron Christian head of school Dr. Tracey Pritchard said her school allows mixed-gender participation, although it requires permission.

“We are always open to at least a ‘discussion’ and ‘evaluation’ of whether it is prudent and appropriate to allow mixed-gender participation for a particular sport at any given time,” Dr. Pritchard said in an e-mail. “We consider it on a case-by-case basis and within the guidelines of GHSA. Also, typically, participation consideration of a female on a male team is based on the needs of the team.”

Georgia High School Association rules state that girls may play boys sports if the school has no equivalent girls sport. For example, a girl could not play on the boys basketball team unless there was no girls basketball team. But the GHSA does not compel its members to allow mixed athletic participation.

Read more here.

Maryland private school bans Washington Redskins gear, citing ‘racial slur’

A Bethesda, Maryland, private school has made a decision about the Washington Redskins’ NFL logo and team name, saying it “feels profoundly at odds with (its) community’s mission and values.” 

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The Green Acres School website posted a pop-up letter from the head of school that announces that any and all Washington Redskins gear will be banned from the school premises heading forward.

In the lengthy letter, Head of School Neal M. Brown said third-graders and sixth-graders raising questions in class were the impetus behind moving forward on a long-time internal discussion.

The letter reads, in part, as follows:

“Last year, our community engaged in thoughtful and open discussions about the wearing of the Washington professional football team logo and the use of the term “Redskins” on campus. We first talked about it in the Staff Diversity Committee, then as a full staff, then with all of our Middle School students, and finally with several parents who joined members of the administration and the Inclusion and Diversity Committee. Students in grade 3 also raised the issue during their study of Native Americans, and then they and the 6th graders engaged in a discussion of ethnically and/or racially–derived sports team logos as part of last year’s celebration of MLK Day. “... The term ‘Redskin’ is a racial slur. Its use, whether intentional or not, can be deeply insulting and offensive. It is a term that demeans a group of people. Similarly, the team’s logo also can reasonably be viewed as racially demeaning. At best, the image is an ethnic stereotype that promotes cultural misunderstanding; at worst, it is intensely derogatory.”

Brown asserted that Green Acres is “an inclusive and uplifting community” that “welcome(s) people of any race, national or ancestral origin.”

“We cannot continue to allow children or staff members --however well intentioned -- to wear clothing that disparages a race of people,” he wrote.

Also on the website, the school describes itself as committed to the “principles of progressive education and to ongoing exploration of what this means in the 21st century.” The school teaches kids as young as 3 years old and as advanced as the eighth grade.

After the decision was made and the news got wind of it, Brown spoke with Fox 5 DC about his rationale.

He said that the football team name and logo, in his view, violated the school’s mission and diversity statement by being “at best ... an ethnic stereotype” and “At worst ... deeply demeaning.”

Green Acres School has been around in 1934. It was the first racially-integrated school in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Teacher shoots self at Georgia high school, police say

Lithia Springs High School in Lithia Springs, Georgia, cancelled classes Thursday morning after an incident involving a teacher, according to Douglas County sheriff’s officials. 

The officials said a school employee was flown to a hospital after suffering a self-inflicted gunshot at the school.

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No students were involved or injured. Just before 9 a.m., students could be seen walking through the parking lot and then back into the building.

“No students were in the building at the time. The campus has been secured, and students are in the gym. Students may be picked up by a parent or guardian, and buses will be available to take bus riders home. There will be no classes at Lithia Springs High School today,” Nell Boggs, community relations specialist for the Douglas County School System, said.

Boggs said a teacher suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound at about 7:15 a.m. while alone in his classroom.

During a news conference about the incident, the school's superintendent thanked first responders and emergency personnel for their swift efforts.

Sheriff's officials said the teacher arrived at the school Thursday morning, went to his classroom and suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"There were no students who ever saw this. This was a very isolated incident," a sergeant said.

Sheriff's officials said student safety is the first priority of theirs and the school board.

There were several hundred students who had made their way to the campus at the time of the shooting, but very few were inside the school building, sheriff's officials said.

Authorities said there were only two people involved: the teacher who suffered the gunshot and another teacher who was able to call 911.

"He was able to call to another teacher to call 911 upon his behalf," the sergeant said.

Authorities are not releasing information about whether or not the shooting was accidental. 

Sheriff's deputies said the teacher was stable as of 12 p.m.

Authorities said grief counselors are at the high school and will remain there for the time being.

"They will be here until they don't need it anymore," a sergeant said.

Deputies said the teacher had been an employee at the school for 18 years.

They said that while the gunshot was self-inflicted, there is a criminal investigation.

Students said the man is their math teacher. They said he has a wife and young daughter.

“His daughter is actually pretty smart. He bragged about her in class and loved her,” student Gustavio Ruiz told WSB-TV.

This is a developing story. Check WSBTV.com for updates.

Ohio school district trains staff to shoot intruders

Intruders beware: Thirty-two teachers and staff in Ohio’s Mad River Local Schools are now armed and ready to kill.

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When school gets back in session Monday, each school building will have a number of the trained staff members who are able to access hidden gun safes, the combinations of which are known exclusively to the individual staff member and the superintendent.

MORE: Mad River will give school staff access to guns

The district is the first in Montgomery County to assemble an “armed and trained response team,” said Superintendent Chad Wyen. But he said the district is part of an emerging trend.

“It’s way more prevalent than people realize,” Wyen said of the district’s decision to arm employees. “Sixty-three out of 88 counties in Ohio have a district with a response team.”

RELATED: New law to ban cellphone use while driving in Tenn. school zones

In southwest Ohio, Wyen has worked with Sidney City Schools, in Miami County, which has a similar plan. Wyen has also worked with Georgetown Exempted Village Schools, in Brown County, east of Cincinnati.

RELATED: Latest move in school safety? A panic button

Mad River Local Schools staff members interviewed to join the volunteer team, then attended one of two courses offering Ohio Peace Officer Training, which is the basic requirement for becoming a police officer. The team also trained at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office gun range.

So far, Wyen said, the response has been positive. He said only one parent has called him opposed to the plan.

Latest move in school safety? A panic button

Getting police and first responders to help students and staff is now more efficient than ever in one Georgia school district.

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Schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia, are now equipped with panic buttons and safety protocol.

Parents told WSB-TV they are on board with the new system.

“Maybe quicker response and quicker timing would save lives,” parent Stece Condra said.

Condra is the parent of a student at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia.

He is learning about the new emergency notification buttons that have been installed in each Gwinnett County public school.

Condra said he is glad school officials are being proactive.

“Hopefully they put it in and never have to use it. That's the best bet,” Condra said.

Officials started to put the program in place two years ago, beginning with panic buttons installed in elementary schools.

Now they're in every school in the district, just in time for the first week of school.

School resource officers like Joe Barnes at Peachtree Ridge High School will now have immediate backup if an intruder gets in.

“To know that help is on the way as soon as someone presses that button is a nice feeling,” Barnes said.

The system puts the school on immediate lockdown and sends alerts to school police dispatch and the county's 911 center.

It is all in real-time because dispatchers will be looking at live camera feeds.

“The school staff is being trained to push it when there is a life-threatening emergency, such as an active shooter,” Barnes said.

The security measure is a significant topic of discussion as school officials across the country consider the best ways to keep students safe. According to a Feb. 2016 ABC News report, each week, on average, one shooting took place on a school or college campus in 2015. The report showed a total of 270 shootings of any kind at a school between April 1999, when the infamous Columbine shooting occurred, and February 2016.

New law to ban cellphone use while driving in Tenn. school zones

Parents and students in Tennessee will soon need to think twice before picking up the phone while driving. Beginning in January, a statewide cellphone ban will be enacted inside of school zones. The ban will not only apply to taking phone calls, but also texting and holding a phone, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

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“If you are holding a phone up to your ear while driving in a school zone, it’s illegal (next year),” said Jeremy Wall, who works as a resource officer at Dickson County High School and also helps direct traffic at the high school in the mornings.

The bill was sponsored by state Sens. Jim Tracy (R) and John Holsclaw (R).

“You should be concentrating on reducing your speed limit and paying attention. You have children walking and a lot of traffic around,” said Tracy. “Eventually, as technology gets better, everything will be hands-free.”

Tracy defended the bill by saying that many of his constituents were interested in legislation to attempt to combat the use of cellphones while driving.

According to Wall, distracted drivers who are on their phones lead to traffic build-up and delays. 

“When someone has the phone to their ear talking, they are so engrossed in that conversation -- they are looking left, they are looking right. And the whole time I am standing there motioning for them to come out,” he told the News Sentinel. “[And] if there is a line of cars, and someone is sitting way back because they are looking at their phone. Guess what I am going to do? I am going to the next rotation. I am going to this group (of vehicles) and bring them on in.”

Drivers who break the law will face a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of up to $50. If a driver is over 18 years of age, they may use a hands-free setup to talk on the phone. Younger drivers can’t use their phones at all.

According to a February report by WTVF, the National Safety Council named Tennessee the state with the most cellphone-related road fatalities in America.

Read more at the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Senior student barred from Christian school's graduation because she's pregnant

Maddi Runkles is a senior at The Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland.

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With a 4.0 grade point average, athletics commitments and a leadership role in the school’s Key Club, she was all set to graduate this spring.

Then came her son, Grayson.

Runkles learned she was pregnant in January. The Heritage Academy, a conservative Christian school, considers premarital sex a violation of its code of conduct, as do many institutions with similar values.

Despite the fact that she attends a Christian school, she said she considered an abortion. A 2014 study found that nearly 60 percent of women who have abortions identify as Catholic or Protestant.

“I had worked so hard for (graduation), and I made one mistake, and all my hard work was being taken away from me,” she told WUSA-9.

WUSA-9 reported that she was first removed from her position on the student council and suspended for two days. She was also told that she’d be forced to finish the school year at home, by herself.

But that changed when a group of students and parents petitioned the school to allow her to finish the year.

“I mean, all I did that was wrong was just have sex before marriage, which they don’t agree with,” said Runkles, who said carrying the child was“the right decision.”

That’s not how her high school sees it. Principal Dave Hobbs planned to tell the entire school about her pregnancy and resulting suspension, according to Students for Life, an anti-abortion group that’s gotten involved on her behalf.

When interviewed, Hobbs said the school’s code of conduct is applied on a case-by-case basis, but that the school has already been generous in allowing Runkles to finish her school year on the premises.

Her father, Scott Runkles, said he resigned from his position as a member of the school’s board because of how his daughter was treated.

Read more at WUSA-9.

Parents call school's 'hair policy' racist

Parents are calling a "hair policy" at a Massachusetts charter school racist after they said black female students are being suspended and disciplined for wearing braided hair extensions. 

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“I was kind of shocked because for years everyone has been able to wear braids,” said Maya Cook, a sophomore at Mystic Valley Regional Charter in Malden, Massachusetts.

Parents of two students told WFXT that their daughters have been kicked off their sports teams and barred from prom at Mystic Valley Regional Charter as discipline for refusing to take out their braided extensions. Others have been suspended, but the parents said they're not backing down.

Cook said school officials first pulled her aside two weeks ago after she and her sister, Deanna Cook, both African-American, had their hair braided at a local salon.

Their adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, received a call from the school.

“The school basically said that they didn't want anything artificial or unnatural in their hair,” said Colleen Cook.

The school's policy says students cannot have a hairstyle that is distracting to other students, and hair extensions are not allowed. Colleen Cook argued that the policy targets only black students.

“We told them there's nothing wrong with their hair the way it is. Their hair is beautiful, there's no correcting that needs to be done,” said Colleen Cook.

Deanna Cook said hair extensions and braids are integral to African American culture.

"It makes me feel like my culture and my hair was not important enough to be represented around the school," Deanna Cook told WFXT.

The Cook girls refused to take out their braided extensions and were punished with daily detention. Colleen Cook said it became worse last week.

“All the little black children were marched down for a hair inspection, whether they had braids or not, and asked, ‘Are those extensions? Are your braids real or not?’” said Colleen Cook.

In a statement, school officials told WFXT: “Our policies ... foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with ... the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success.”

Colleen Cook said the school’s policy doesn’t send a message of success to her daughters.

“It really affects them to their core and tells them, ‘You're not good enough, you need to change,’” she said.

She has filed a complaint with the NAACP and the anti-defamation league and said that so far, there has been no response from school officials.

Mystic Valley Regional Charter released the following statement from Alexander J. Dan, the school’s interim director:  

“The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School serves a diverse student population from surrounding communities that include Everett, Medford and Malden, among other cities. The school consistently ranks among the top schools in Massachusetts in MCAS testing, SAT testing and college admissions. We send students from all walks of life, including those of color and those from limited means, to the best colleges and universities in the nation. 

“One important reason for our students’ success is that we purposefully promote equity by focusing on what unites our students and reducing visible gaps between those of different means. Our policies, including those governing student appearance and attire, foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with, and a part of, the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success.” 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story used the colloquial term “braids” to refer to braided hair extensions. This story has been updated to clarify the wearing of braided extensions. 

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