07/30/11 — Board of Education will weigh new code for students

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Board of Education will weigh new code for students

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 30, 2011 11:26 PM

The Board of Education is expected to establish a "student code of conduct" Monday night, adopting 30 discipline policies in line with recent action by the General Assembly, which officials hope will keep students in school and reduce suspensions.

House Bill 736 was designed "to reorganize the general statutes relating to school discipline; prevent litigation by adding definitions to, and clarifying ambiguities in, the current law; codify existing case law; and increase local control and flexibility regarding discipline."

Policies range from disruptive behavior and gang-related activity to authority of school personnel and hearings before the board. Attention is also paid to student and parent grievance procedures as well as smoking and tobacco products.

"We don't usually get a sweeping number of policies in July," said Allison Pridgen, director of student support services, who added the directive to approve them came from the state school boards association.

"They have to be in place by the time school starts," Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said. "They will be put together in the handbook that we give students."

The bulk of the policies contained minor word changes or deletions, to become more consistent with the law, but ultimately were designed to have a clear and consistent plan for districts to discipline students.

And all, officials said, with the intent of keeping students in school.

"In order to create and maintain a safe and orderly school environment conducive to learning, school officials and teachers need adequate tools to maintain good discipline in schools," the bill reads. "However, the General Assembly also recognizes that removal of students from school, while sometimes necessary, can exacerbate behavioral problems, diminish academic achievement and hasten school dropout. School discipline must balance these interests to provide a safe and productive learning environment, to continually teach students to respect themselves, others and property, and to conduct themselves in a manner that fosters their own learning and the learning of those around them."

Mrs. Pridgen said that while reading through the state policies and definitions, she saw repeated references to a "student code of conduct," something Wayne County does not have. She soon realized, though, that the district's 4000 series of policies are actually a code of conduct but by a different name.

Officials have spent recent weeks putting together a "code of conduct" to comply with the state's policies and make the format consistent with other districts.

The move is expected to give administrators stronger guidelines to operate under, all in the name of reducing out-of-school suspensions.

"We're no different than any other school system," Mrs. Pridgen said "Everybody has too many (suspensions) and they're looking at ways to reduce them. The state is taking a stronger stance on that as well.

"Some will like your code of conduct, some will not. All have to adhere to it."

In addition to coming up for review by the school board's personnel committee this past week, the entire board was invited to hear a presentation made during the administrative retreat. Officials also expect to present the information to principals and educators and publicize the new policies through school and student handbooks, as well as online at the district website, waynecountyschools.org.