Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Donald Andrews on Wednesday defended the recent arrest of a father who argued against a controversial student pick-up policy recently implemented at South Cumberland Elementary School in Crossville, Tenn. The policy, which ultimately resulted in the dad’s arrest last week, requires parents who walk onto campus when picking up their children to wait until all students have been loaded into vehicles.
Andrews also defended the policy itself, telling TheBlaze that due to safety concerns, “walkers” are the last students to be released from the “holding area.” The superintendent went on make a somewhat convoluted case as to why the school and the officer acted appropriately, though he admitted he wasn’t aware of what Tennessee state law says about the matter.
“We aren’t running a dictatorship here,” he said, adding that the principal of the school is willing to work with parents who have special circumstances.
As previously reported by TheBlaze, Jim Howe was arrested last week for disorderly conduct after arguing with a school resource officer about the policy. Though school was dismissed, Howe was told he would have to wait to take his children home, per the official policy.
Howe also spoke with TheBlaze on Wednesday, saying he doesn’t regret taking a stand for his rights as a parent and that he “absolutely” plans to fight the disorderly conduct charge against him. He is currently considering whether to file a lawsuit over his arrest.
The father said he understands the policy of not wanting students walking around outside alone where there are cars everywhere, but added that when a parent walks to the school and wants to take their child or children home, “that should supersede any policy.”
Andrews said Howe visited the school two other times protesting guidelines of the new pick-up policy. It was after Howe showed up for a third time that school resource officer Avery Aytes lost his patience.
“I stand behind our resource officer because there is much more to the story than meets the eye. We simply can’t have that in our public schools and we aren’t going to tolerate it,” the superintendent told TheBlaze. “Our duty is to protect our students. That sir, is nonnegotiable.”
Howe said things took a turn for the worst when he refused to sign a form that he says would have given his children permission to walk by themselves, which he didn’t want. He claimed that he walked because the new policy has resulted in a long line of cars along a four-lane road that is essentially a “highway,” and it’s a safety hazard — not because he didn’t want to wait in line.
“It’s not the school’s child, it’s my child,” he said. “At any time, when you request your child, it’s not up to the school. … There’s a big difference between policy and law, and that’s what I’m trying to get across to them.”
The new student pick-up policy at South Cumberland County Schools was implemented Nov. 12 due to a number of safety concerns, including dangerous traffic flow.
“Sometimes you don’t know who is picking who up and who is getting in whose car,” Andrews said. “Then there were concerns about kids pulling off and kids running out in front of the cars. … It was a disaster.”
Parents now have “placards” on their vehicles, which helps school officials identify which car each student should be loaded into. To prevent any potential accidents involving walking students, officials decided to keep “walkers” in the “holding area” until all students being picked up in cars depart.
When pressed on whether the school district is considering updating the policy to allow parents who walk to escort their children off school property without waiting, the superintendent was evasive but said officials are working to determine if the policy can be improved.
TheBlaze also asked Andrews if Howe was correct in his assessment of Tennessee law. In the now-viral YouTube video, Howe told the school resource officer that state law requires the school to release his children to him within a reasonable amount of time after dismissal.
Andrews did not have an answer, though he vowed to look into it.
“I apologize for not knowing that,” he said. “I am actually new to the state of Tennessee myself, so I’m not familiar with that.”
After TheBlaze spoke with Andrews, Howe said there are rumors that the school district is planning on seeking additional charges against him. In response, he challenged the district to release video surveillance footage from inside and outside the elementary school to news stations or law enforcement to prove he broke a single law.
“If they can do that, not only will I drop it, I’ll leave town,” he said.
Howe said he picked his kids up by car within a reasonable amount of time on Wednesday and praised school officials for working to make the system more efficient. It isn’t about the student pick-up policy, he said, adding that parts of the policy are good for student safety.
“It’s about our rights as parents,” the dad concluded.
Watch the full video of Howe’s arrest in TheBlaze’s previous report.