Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

September 30, 2013

North Clay school board decision divides community

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

LOUISVILLE — LOUISVILLE — The suspension of athletes at North Clay High School has led to a divided school board, district and community.

After a group of high school athletes arrived at an administrator's residence intoxicated in August, the school launched an investigation, looking for students who were involved in the incident or with the purchase of the alcohol.

"Once the administrators began investigating it, more students were reporting others," said Superintendent Monty Aldrich. "It just sort of snowballed. Even though it didn't happen on our campus, according to our athletic policy we had to investigate."

Following the investigation, the administration found the students to be in violation of the athletic code. Aldrich would not say the number of students involved or the sports they participated in other than some of the students were involved in multiple sports.

North Clay has a zero tolerance policy involving athletes and use of alcohol, with violators being suspended from all athletics for one year. The board had approved the zero-tolerance policy when it approved the student handbook on Aug. 8 before the incident occurred. However, Aldrich said parents of some of the suspended students came before the school board, asking for reduced suspensions for their children. The board did overturn the 365-day suspension by a 5-2 margin at an emergency special board meeting on Sept. 6.

Aldrich said the board's decision has divided faculty, staff and students at North Clay.

"It's hit our whole community," he said. "There's two sides of it, but everyone is up in arms. It hasn't been pleasant."

At a meeting on Sept. 19, school board member Darrell McKnelly, who voted against overturning the zero-tolerance policy, resigned from the school board, effective immediately.

In a letter he read at the meeting, McKnelly said he felt overturning the policy represented a contradiction by the board and that the board failed to represent the interests of all student athletes in the school.

"I voted 'no' to overturn the discipline that was in place not because I wanted to see the players punished but because this was something that we, as a board, as well as the players and parents, had agreed to," he said. "I feel that we have opened a door to an endless list of future policy rules being challenged."

Some community members see the board's decision as cutting power from the administration, leaving any rule the school puts in place to be challenged by parents.

"I understand what the kids did was wrong, and I understand giving people second chances, but these kids knew the punishments," said Kevin Hammond, a parent of two children who attend North Clay schools. "They knew what was going to happen. It's left the administration in limbo. The board has kind of cut the power out of how we enforce the rules."

Hammond, who moved to the area between Kinmundy and Louisville after hearing recommendations about North Clay schools, said he thinks the board's actions have not only impacted the punished athletes, but the entire student body.

"I've seen a lot of things in my life, and I understand North Clay is a

small community and things do happen but when you have some kids or their parents bully the system, it hurts all the students as a whole," he said.

Aldrich said changes could still be made. The board intends to form a committee to address community concerns, but he added no meetings have been set at this time. For now, he said it's best that staff and community members begin to come together.

"It's time to be strong and deal with it," he said. "It's tough, because it's going to be hard to get over. It's divided our kids. People quit waving at you and quit speaking to you."