APS board mulls policy changes
ALPENA — The display of controversial flags and the presence of people convicted of sexual offenses on school property came under scrutiny as new Alpena Public Schools Board of Education members spoke up during their first APS meeting on Monday.
The workshop meeting included a first reading of proposed changes to APS policy. The board will consider adoption of the updated policies at a future meeting.
One new policy under consideration would set limits on where and when teachers and students can display flags on school property.
In September 2021, school officials said tensions between students related to students wearing and displaying confederate flags caused disruptions in the school day. Officials asked those students, and other students displaying pride flags, to remove those items to avoid creating a distraction.
The proposed policy, as currently worded, would allow the display of specified flag types — including American and Michigan flags and those representing military branches, colleges, recognitions of achievement, and student groups.
At Monday’s meeting, board members, particularly new members AJ MacArthur and Eric Hansen, sought clarification about wording permitting the display of flags tied to approved curriculum.
Flags representing race- or gender-related social movements or extreme political beliefs, not specifically permitted per the proposed policy, could still appear in classrooms as part of a teacher’s curriculum if the teacher justified their presence, APS Superintendent David Rabbideau said.
Board members suggested such displays should require preapproval from a school or district administrator.
Students might include such items in projects related to curriculum, including as art displays in school hallways, and the policy’s language should reflect such potential displays but prohibit the display of non-approved flags in areas not directly associated with curriculum, such as at a sporting event, board members suggested.
MacArthur also expressed concern that a student group could circumvent rules about controversial flags by creating an organization logo incorporating elements of forbidden flags.
Student display of flags in any way that disrupts the school day is prohibited by the district dress code, the board members said.
Separately, board members considered changing APS policy regarding who may enter school grounds after a criminal conviction mandating inclusion on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry.
District policy currently permits parents and guardians with registered sex offender status to attend some events under certain conditions and with administration approval.
The policy revision would expand that right to other individuals, still with preapproval by administrators.
The proposed change would allow students’ other relatives with sex offender registration requirements to attend the events, Rabbideau said.
As currently worded, the policy says that, if someone on the registry appears on school property without permission, administrators can ask that person to leave but not demand their removal.
“It basically says that they can come on and we might do something,” Hanson said. “I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that.”
Board members suggested clearer wording specifying the district’s response to the presence of people who must register as sex offenders. That response may be limited by state rules and pending lawsuits related to the sex offender registry, Rabbideau said.
The board also considered a proposed clarification of the district’s policy regarding drones and an expansion of the number of breaks granted to breastfeeding staff members.
The board will revisit the proposed new and revised policies at the Jan. 23 regular meeting and may vote to approve them at that time.
The discussion was preceded by a vote selecting a new vice president. Anna Meinhardt, the previous vice president, shifted to the president role when the previous president, Ned Heath, was not reelected in the November election.
At first deadlocked in a vote for nominees Eric Lawson and Stacey Parr, the board unanimously chose Parr as vice president when Lawson told the board Parr had his vote.