Carroll County School Board approves policy changes and revamps employee health care

The Board of Education unanimously approved a health care provider for Carroll County public school employees and policy revisions related to violent incidents and student health.

At its monthly Wednesday evening meeting, the board approved the renewal of employee health care through Aetna. As a provider of Medicaid, prescription drugs, stop loss insurance, and Medicare Advantage plans, Aetna coverage costs just under $19 million. Superintendent Cynthia McCabe said a price cut by the supplier would save about $4 million in 2024.

A package of medical plan benefits and stop loss insurance will cost about $2.4 million, the Medicare Advantage plan will cost more than $3.3 million, and the prescription drug plan will cost nearly $13 million in 2024.

Benefits are an important tool for employee retention, said Board of Education Chair Marsha Herbert, and most employees like having Aetna as a supplier.

We don’t have the biggest raises, Herbert said, but they love our health insurance. This is a problem. If we can provide that, that’s a win for us.

Herbert said she received good health care from Aetna when she was an educator and that the staff prefer continuity in one health care provider so she can keep seeing the same doctor.

Overall employee satisfaction has been very comfortable and happy with current vendor, said Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jonathan ONeal

Three revised policies were presented by School Systems Director of Student Services, Karl Streaker, and each update was individually approved by unanimous vote.

The updated Threats, Violent Acts, and Prohibited Weapons Policy, which adds definitions for terms such as assault, similar firearm, targeted violence, and leak, was passed without revision.

A firearm/other similar gun is defined in policy reviews as any weapon other than a firearm, loaded or unloaded, fireable or unserviceable such as a BB gun, starter pistol, or pellet gun, that resembles to a firearm.

The proposed language to define similar firearms comes after the Manchester Police Department issued a statement in May warning of the dangers of a traditional high school game played outside school using realistic-looking water pistols. The policy notes that with written approval from a principal, similar weapons may be used in school-sponsored events, such as theater productions or marching band performances and JROTC activities.

Also in reviews, loss is defined as when an individual intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues of feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an impending violent act. The policy now states that all members of the school community should report any leaks or leak-related information immediately in order to avoid threats of violence to schools.

The School Systems Policy on Threats and Violence in Schools, Firearms, and Weapons is based on the Maryland Behavioral Threat Assessment Model Policy, which was developed as a result of the Safe to Learn Act of 2018, according to the item on the agenda. The suggested updates would align the county policy with the Maryland Center for School Safetys Behavioral Threat Assessment Implementation Guide, a supplement to the state’s threat assessment policy.

The policy was first implemented in December 1995 and has been updated multiple times, with the most recent revisions approved on August 12, 2020.

The health and wellbeing policy revisions, last seen in March 2020, update the scope of the policy to include employees and students and alter the roles of several staff positions.

While a school nurse has always been responsible for contributing to classroom instruction on handwashing and related topics, the revisions add training in CPR and overdose response to the position’s responsibilities.

School psychologists now work with postsecondary students and would now offer psychological assessment services.

The position of licensed mental health professional was added, to advise students, provide professional development training for staff, and regularly intervene in crises and take preventative action.

I would like to see some sort of language that requires parents to be notified of any type of treatment prescribed or performed by a member of staff, that parents agree to any type of counseling or treatment activity, said the member of the board Steve Whisler.

Streaker said school psychologists simply observe a student before cooperating with parents.

Families are very informed, Streaker said, and there is a lot of progress monitoring that goes with it.

A further update modifies the descriptions of counseling, psychological, and social services to include program initiatives that support student learning in self-regulation, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, executive functioning, and problem-solving skills. Services are provided collaboratively with families and the student community.

The word students was changed from schools by an amendment proposed by board member Donna Sivigny. The school board unanimously approved the amendment and the revised policy, as amended.

Families don’t belong in schools, Sivigny said, families belong in students, so he was a little vague about what we actually meant there.

A section on student dignity has been added to the Student Search and Seizure Policy to clarify that searches should not demean students or disrupt education more than necessary. Whenever a student is searched, a third party must be present under current policy. The external observer and the researched student must be of the same gender and it is preferable that the researcher also be of the same gender as the student. Streaker said the new policy seeks to clarify this requirement by changing the wording of the rules.

Policy revisions also expand the circumstances in which a student can be searched. While a student may currently be searched for suspected possession of illegal items, the updated language extends this rule to any item that violates a school policy.

In the event of a drug investigation that occurs when students would have been released from classes, students will be kept in class until the search is completed, under the new policy. Previous policy would have ended strip searches should students be released into the corridors.

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The policy was unanimously approved and a revision of the police search regulation was also suggested.

The Police Search Policy states that staff must cooperate with the police, but cannot carry out a search unless a police officer has a search warrant. School board member Patricia Dorsey said the language could be improved.

It’s a little confrontational, Dorsey said. He says we’ll cooperate, but then he lets us know we can’t conduct the research.

If a search warrant has been issued, why should we search? The officer can do the search, counsel Edmund O’Meally said.

The tongue, [a] school official cannot conduct a search of a student at the request of a police officer unless a warrant has been issued, it will be changed to something communicating that school officials are not to conduct searches as directed by the police officers. School officials should cooperate with police officers if they need to launch an investigation, Streaker said.

Streaker said he will make sure the policy is clearly communicated to school principals by school safety chief Curtis Pierce and school safety coordinator Brandon Elliot.

School board meetings are open to the public and broadcast live on Carroll County Public Schools YouTube channel and viewable on the right side of the Board of Educations website at carrollk12.org/board-of-education/meeting-information, under CETV Livestream. The bouts are also broadcast live throughout the month on Carroll Educational Television, Ch. 21.

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