08/02/11 — School board eyes changes to discipline

View Archive

School board eyes changes to discipline

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 2, 2011 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education spent more than an hour Monday night discussing policies handed down by the state to better regulate discipline and reduce suspensions.

Thirty-three new and revised discipline policies -- ranging from student behavior and authority of school personnel to handling of hearings and parental involvement -- were approved by the board. But not before one board member singled out nine policies and deliberated on each individually.

The personnel policy committee met last week, devoting nearly two hours to policies in House Bill 736 in anticipation of the full board vote.

Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services, explained Monday that board action on the policies was required to be in compliance with the state board and the law.

The board attorney, Jack Edwards, said if there were some policies the board was not in accord with that they could be singled out for discussion.

Board member Len Henderson exempted nine policies from the vote, including alternative learning programs, student behavior and long- and short-term suspensions. Allison Pridgen, director of student support services, explained some of the policies before pointing out the rationale behind them -- giving districts and administrators more authority to maintain discipline in the schools.

"I think it's very clear if you have read the newspaper over the last six months, the state of North Carolina is very concerned about out-of-school suspensions," she said.

While six of the policies were new, the others were revisions of existing requirements.

"We do expect to see a reduction in our out-of-school suspensions," she said.

Student rights and due process are still protected, she said, and principals do have authority to suspend students up to 10 days without superintendent approval. Also new is the requirement to provide copies of all documents to parents in their primary language.

Procedures are also in place to deal with various student behaviors and how parents will be notified.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said it is rare to be sent so many policies at one time for approval, but they needed to be adopted in time for the start of school so the information could be distributed to students and families and posted online. He reiterated Mrs. Pridgen's sentiments about the need to reduce suspensions as much as possible.

"It's hard to educate students if they're not in the classroom," he said.

"We're going to maintain law and order," Taylor said. "At the same time, we're going to try to reduce the number of suspensions short-term. We have already done that for long-term."

Based on the new rules, Taylor said, in severe cases children will be removed from the class. At the same time, he added, minor infractions will be dealt with more effectively.

Parents can play a big role in helping the district with discipline, he pointed out.

"We expect this to start at home," Taylor said. "We would ask parents to do their best to guide and direct students to follow the rules."

Henderson, who has been vocal about the district's suspension rates throughout his first year on the board, admitted he was somewhat confused about long- and short-term suspensions, but had found that Taylor did not hand down "a lot of long-term suspensions."

"There might be a misperception about my views on suspension," Henderson said. "I do believe that suspension is warranted at times."

Henderson said he believes in the district taking a stronger look at the way it does things, which was why he chose to "hone in on some of the issues."

He also raised questions about the dress code implemented at six area schools four years ago. He suggested parents be surveyed to see if they want it to continue. Several board members said it is too close to the start of school to change the policy, as many families have likely already purchased back-to-school clothing.

"I would say that it's better at the end of the year because it gives you the whole summer to prepare for it," Taylor said.

Board Chairman Thelma Smith and board member Rick Pridgen said they had been pleased not only with the appearance of students adhering to the dress code but also had seen a marked improvement in behavior and discipline issues at schools that had adopted it.