The Olentangy Local School District is beefing up its bullying and harassment policies in response to student complaints.

The school board May 17 unanimously approved revisions to the district's student and athlete handbooks.

In March, six black students spoke before the school board, detailing racial bullying and taunts in district high schools.

They asked for the student handbook to be revised to add stronger language regarding discrimination, harassment and bullying and its potential consequences.

"I applaud those students for coming forward, because it's coming to fruition," said board member Julie Wagner Feasel.

The district has three student handbooks -- one each for the elementary, middle and high schools -- and another handbook for student athletes.

The handbooks were reviewed by a district committee and revised to more clearly define what constitutes intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment and hazing, said Jack Fette, chief academic officer.

It also now "explicitly states" that such actions and comments will result in a suspension from school. Depending on the circumstances, students could face expulsion, Fette said.

The handbook previously said such actions "may result" in a suspension.

The new language states that if an "investigation finds an instance of hazing, harassment, intimidation, bullying, and/or sexual harassment, by an electronic act or otherwise, has occurred, it will result in prompt and appropriate remedial and disciplinary action. This will include suspension or up to expulsion for students. Furthermore, racial, sexist, or abusive comments or actions directed at others will not be tolerated and will result in suspension or up to expulsion."

Another notable change to the handbooks includes the addition of vaping and e-cigarettes as prohibited devices on campus.

For student athletes, vaping will be treated the same as a drug or alcohol violation, to combat the "continued proliferation of vaping and e-cigarettes," said Randy Wright, chief of administrative services.

"We will no longer separate it from alcohol and other drugs as we have in the past," Wright said, adding that student athletes caught vaping could face punishments including counseling and loss of participation.

Also at last week's meeting, the board unanimously approved the adoption of the five-year financial forecast, which is required to be filed twice a year with the Ohio Department of Education.

Board members heard the first reading of the forecast last month.

It predicts that without additional funding, Olentangy will be in the red in a few years.

Only about 6 percent of the district's $231 million budget comes from the state of Ohio, said Emily Hatfield, the district's treasurer. Because the district has higher-than-average property values and household incomes, Ohio caps its funding, she said.

"The rest of our income comes from taxes of one form or another," Hatfield said. "We are not an 'if' levy community, we are a 'when' levy community."

By the end of fiscal year 2022, projections show Olentangy would have enough money on hand to operate for just 15 days.

Ideally, it would have 30 to 60 days of "cash on hand," Hatfield said.

The district intended to make the funds from its last levy campaign in 2016 last through 2020.

"We are able to meet our 2016 campaign promise," Hatfield said.

In the next year or so, the board will need to "start thinking about and planning our next operating campaign. We want our community to understand that we are being fiscally responsible, but we are depending on tax dollars to help make up that funding that we don't receive."

Also during the meeting, the board approved the purchase of 3,220 Google Chromebooks and 124 carts to hold them from Dayton Cincinnati Technology Services LLC. The total cost is $993,309.

Board members also OK'd two purchases totaling more than a half-million dollars in technology equipment for Berlin High School, which is under construction and slated to open in the fall.

The board voted unanimously to approve a $286,144 invoice from Dayton Cincinnati Technology Services and another in the amount of $348,625 from CDW-G.

The next board meeting is set for 6 p.m. June 14 at the district's headquarters, 7840 Graphics Way in Lewis Center.

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