‘Our first step is already in motion’

Cullman City Schools holding tolerance listening sessions, eyeing possible policy adjustments

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(Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman City Schools is looking to launch listening sessions with different groups of students to discuss matters of inclusion and acceptance, in a forward-looking effort to address the challenges students face.

The move comes in the wake of a video, recorded off-campus, that surfaced featuring students using racial slurs. While Cullman City Schools has no tolerance for racism in its schools, the school district is bound to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Given the possible First Amendment issues presented by the video, the school district consulted with its legal counsel about limits on its ability to punish the students for the video.

The Board’s counsel provided a legal opinion on the following question: can a school district punish students for vulgar, off-campus speech that is not aimed at any specific student or faculty member and fails to cause a substantial disruption to the students’ learning environment? In light of recent Supreme Court precedent, the Board’s counsel provided clear guidance—a school system cannot punish the students given the present facts. A copy of the board counsel’s opinion letter is attached to this statement.

However, Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said the system cannot and will not close the book on the bigger issue of acceptance and tolerance among the students served in Cullman.

“As a school system, we have a tremendous opportunity for growth,” Kallhoff said. “We have an obligation to make sure every student in Cullman City Schools is welcome and accepted. Our first step is already in motion.”

The school system has two Mental Health Specialists who are talking with students in small groups about conflict, meanness and bullying. Most worthwhile, they are having conversations about the importance of kindness and acceptance of others who may be different.

Administratively, the system will also host multiple small group listening sessions with adolescent students who may have differences. The goal is to hear from them about what it is like to be a student in the school system, the struggles they may encounter, and to hear the potential solutions they believe could make a positive change in the school system and community.

“After listening to our students and collecting their perceptions and feelings we will determine what updates are needed in our code of conduct and Board policies to make sure our students feel safe at school,” Kallhoff said.

In terms of professional development for teachers and administrators, the system is already working with the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools on resources and activities to increase awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“This Board and I are tasked and committed to lead the teaching and learning of all students enrolled in the Cullman City School System no matter their race, gender or differing beliefs,” Kallhoff said.