Breckenridge Texan

BISD Board of Trustees to consider allowing foreign exchange students to participate in commencement ceremony

BISD Board of Trustees to consider allowing foreign exchange students to participate in commencement ceremony
April 25
08:05 2022

By Carla McKeown and Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

At their next meeting, the Breckenridge Independent School District Board of Trustees will have another discussion and possible vote on whether or not to allow foreign exchange students to participate in the annual commencement ceremony at the end of the school year, according to board president Graham Reaugh.

During a phone interview on Wednesday, Reaugh told the Breckenridge Texan that he will add an action item about the topic to the May meeting’s agenda. That will allow the board members to vote on the issue, if one of the board members makes a motion and another one seconds it.

Although three people spoke at the March school board meeting, requesting that this year’s foreign exchange students be allowed to participate in the ceremony, the topic was not on the April school board agenda last week. BISD Superintendent Bryan Allen said he didn’t put the item on the agenda because none of the board members requested it. Reaugh, likewise, said no one contacted him directly to ask that the item be placed on the April 18 agenda.

The situation involves a request by Breckenridge High School senior Shalyn Owen to the school board that they allow a foreign exchange student to participate in next month’s commencement ceremony. Owen’s original request included both of this year’s foreign exchange students, but she said that she recently realized that one of the students may be classified as a junior this year.

Background

Last month, Owen started a petition on Change.org, seeking support for her request to allow the foreign exchange students to participate in the event. More than 1,700 people have signed the online petition.

Click here to read the Breckenridge Texan’s first article about the petition and the school district’s comments on the situation.

Then, on March 21, Owen and Breckenridge resident Bo Asher signed up to speak at the school board meeting, and a parent of a senior also spoke to the board during the discussion section of the meeting. Additionally, more than 20 students, parents and others attended the meeting in support of Owen and the foreign exchange students.

Click here to read more about that meeting.

At the end of the March 21 public discussion, Reaugh said that in order for any changes to be made to the policy, the topic would have to be an action item on a school board meeting agenda. For that to happen, he said, a school board member would have to make the request to Allen. Two people said they spoke to at least three school board members about the issue, but none of them asked Allen to put the topic on the April agenda.

Reaugh said that no community members spoke to him about the issue, and since none of the other board members requested the issue be put on the agenda, he thought it was a dead issue. However, after talking with the Breckenridge Texan and finding out that there is still interest in the community about the topic, he said he will put it on the agenda.

The Arguments

There have been several arguments presented in favor of and against allowing foreign exchange students to participate in the BISD annual commencement ceremony at the end of the year.

The initial petition and speeches at the school board requested that the students be allowed to participate in the ceremony mainly for inclusive, kind-hearted and traditional reasons:

  1. The foreign exchange students have attended Breckenridge High School all year long and have participated in all of the other senior-related activities, such as senior portraits, group photo, athletic events, etc., and should be allowed to take part in the commencement ceremony as part of their “American experience.” There hasn’t been any public comment against this reason; but, the sentiment seems to be that this isn’t enough of a reason to change the current policy and allow them to participate in the ceremony.
  2. Foreign exchange students have been allowed to participate in commencement ceremonies in the past, according to several local citizens. Superintendent Allen said he can find no confirmation that has happened.
  3. BHS students, some teachers and others in the community have expressed their support for allowing the foreign exchange students to participate in the ceremony, including more than 1,700 who signed the online petition. The school board’s position is that the issue isn’t a matter of who supports the participation but that it’s a matter of policy that doesn’t allow them to participate.
  4. Some other schools, such as Woodson High School, have reportedly allowed foreign exchange students to participate in their commencement ceremonies. At the March meeting, Allen said that he had called several school districts in Texas and found a wide range of related policies and that each district makes and abides by their own policies.

BISD officials have given several reasons why foreign exchange students should not participate in the commencement ceremony, most pertaining to published policies:

  1. Foreign exchange students do not receive a diploma or certificate of completion, either of which are required by BISD policy for the commencement ceremony; foreign exchange students receive a certificate of attendance since their prior education cannot necessarily be verified as compliant with Texas guidelines. However, some community members have pointed out some alleged discrepancies in that argument, including: BISD policy allows students in the special education program to receive certificates of attendance and participate in the ceremonies; the BISD policy does not explicitly state that foreign exchange students or others with certificates of attendance may not participate in the ceremonies; and the BISD policy does not spell out all of the requirements for participation in the commencement ceremony.
  2. The ceremony is considered a “graduation ceremony” for those who have completed the requirements for graduation and certain levels of accomplishment must be maintained. However, last September, the BISD policy was changed to allow students who satisfactorily complete all coursework requirements for graduation but who have not met the applicable state testing requirements (passed the STAAR tests) to receive a certificate of completion and participate in the commencement ceremony. Those in favor of allowing the foreign exchange students to participate say that indicates the ceremony is not just for “graduates.”
  3. Anyone interested in having foreign exchange students participate in the commencement ceremony should have followed the complaint protocol or chain of command detailed in the BISD policy, rather than taking the matter to social media, such as the online petition that was created and then shared on Facebook. Those in support of allowing the foreign exchange students to participate have pointed out that they didn’t have a complaint – they had a request, which didn’t seem to require the up-to-40-day procedure. Additionally, the superintendent was quoted in a Breckenridge Texan article prior to the March meeting as saying that because neither he nor the high school principal had the authority to change the policy, the issue would go straight to the Board of Trustees, a statement that was interpreted by some to mean that the complaint procedure was not necessary.
  4. Most foreign exchange students take part in the program during their junior year, and graduation isn’t an issue. Those who spoke at the March school board meeting acknowledged that the situation doesn’t occur every year, and they asked if a change in the policy or a new policy isn’t warranted, could the board simply approve a waiver or exception to the policy for this year.

Options

Breckenridge school board member Paul Lippe, center, along with Jimmy McKay and Chad Townson, talks to Shalyn Owen at the March 21 meeting. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

There are many different ways the BISD Board of Trustees can handle to topic at the May meeting, but the main options they might consider include:

  • They can take no action. If none of the board members makes a motion to take any action or if no one seconds a motion to take action, then the item will die and the current policy and interpretation by school district officials will stand, meaning that the foreign exchange students will not be allowed to participate in the ceremony.
  • They can approve a waiver or exception for this year only, allowing one or both of the foreign exchange students to participate in the ceremony. The board can then choose whether or not to reconsider the related district policies before the next school year.
  • They can consider a new policy to allow foreign exchange students who complete their senior year at BHS in good standing to participate in the commencement ceremony, receiving a certificate of attendance. A motion can be made and seconded, but whether or not it is passed and becomes a policy is determined by how the board members vote; board members will be allowed to vote in favor of the motion (aye) or against it (nay) or they can abstain from voting.
  • They can consider a new policy that will prohibit foreign exchange students – this year and in the future – from participating in the commencement ceremonies. That could be a direct policy regarding foreign exchange students, or it could be, for example, a policy that specifies that participants can include only students receiving diplomas, certificates of completion or certificates of attendance through the special education program. Again, the implementation of such a proposed policy will be determined by the board’s vote on it.

The meeting

Although the meeting schedule has not yet been posted, the May BISD Board of Trustees meeting is unofficially scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 9, at the BISD administration building, 208 N. Miller St. The agenda will be posted by BISD at least 72 hours before the meeting.

Additionally, the board may hold special or emergency board meetings at other times, with proper notice provided. Typically, those meetings deal with topics such as hiring new teachers, accepting donations or making large purchases that have a specific deadline. The topics to be discussed in any meeting must be listed on the agenda for that meeting.

In order to speak during the “Comments from the Public” section at a Breckenridge school board meeting, members of the public must fill out a form and turn it in to Brittany Edgar, secretary to the superintendent, at any time before the meeting starts. Click here to download the form. Also, there are several rules that speakers must follow; click here for that information.

During the action item section of the meeting, the school board must discuss and vote on the topic in public session. The Texas Open Meetings Act specifies that a school board can go into a closed meeting if identifiable information about a student is to be discussed. However, a parent or guardian (for students under age 18) or the student – if he or she is age 18 or older – may request in writing that the topic be discussed in open session. All votes must be made in public session.

 

Cutline, top photo: At the March school board meeting, Breckenridge High School senior Shalyn Owen, center, is surrounded by fellow classmates and others interested in her petition to allow foreign exchange students to participate in the May commencement ceremony. School board president Graham Reaugh said that the topic will be on the May meeting agenda as an action item. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 


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