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U-CF Board hears from more parents about district's disciplinary policy

11/21/2017 10:33AM ● Published by J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The fallout from a Sept. 8 football game at Unionville High School continues for students who were suspended after being accused of drinking alcohol or smoking e-cigarettes on school property.

At their Nov. 20 meeting, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board heard from several residents who first thanked the board for addressing the district's disciplinary policy at last week's meeting, and for voicing concerns that the current penalties are too harsh.

In an email to parents last month, Unionville principal James Conley wrote, “Numerous students received disciplinary action because of their behavior at the game. We’re learning that some kids have done this previously at games. After a thorough investigation, the students we know to be involved have been suspended.”

Students who confessed to smoking got three-day suspensions. Students suspected of drinking at the game got 10-day suspensions.

During public comment at the end of the board meeting, Drew Hoffman, who has three children in district schools, said he appreciated the long discussion at last week's board meeting, during which board members discussed the severity of the policy as written.

“Under the current system, despite the infraction, there is one standard punishment,” Hoffman said. “Being the parent of a daughter who was at the football game and was suspended, I'm seeing what it's done to my daugher, who was an A student, taking honors classes. I see her slowly come down to a shell of her former self. At that age, you shoudn't have a mistake put you on a different path to success. There should be some way to redeem yourself. I'm not trying to minimize it. But to me, this was a chance to learn and bond with the student body. Making a bomb threat should not be the same thing as sipping alcohol on campus, or smoking.

“I am confident that my daughter will get back on track, but she's a sophomore now,” Hoffman said. “I don't want her to be a senior and this thing is still there, and there's nothing she can do to get it off there. It may end up derailing her college dreams.”

Wendy Landry, who is a teacher at Patton Middle School, told the board, “When you're looking at these policies to change, keep in mind some important things. We talk about wellness of students in this district, but think what a suspension does to their emotional health. Being out of the classroom for 10 days, that's really hard. I'd like to see you include flexibility within your disciplinary code, some consideration for the kind of offense, or for first-time offenses, and have opportunities for second chances. We are in the business of students, and they are kids. They need us to build them up, not tear them down.”

Shannon Impagliazzo, who has four students in the district, said, “I have a daughter who was involved in the incident. I think a lot can be learned from the unfortunate experiences that these kids have gone through. What took us aback was that out-of-school suspensions still exist. To me, unless a student is a danger to themselves or someone else, there's no reason for them not to be at school. The disruption that occurs in a student's life when they're out of school, I can barely put it into words. I very strongly feel that any number of days out of school will not be beneficial. The disruption, trying to make up the work, is an immense climb for them. I feel all students should be held accountable and have consequences, but I hope that the punishment of having a child taken out of the classroom will be for a very rare case.”

Board member Jeff Hellrung, in his closing remarks, said, “We will be looking at possible changes to the disciplinary policy. What I'm hoping for is more flexibility out of our system, and more opportunities for administrators to use discretion. I hope we can find alternatives to out-of-school suspension. In my view, there should certainly never be more than a five-day suspension. I can't imagine students will be benefiting in any way by suffering through days 6 to 10 that they haven't already learned in the shock of their disciplinary hearing and days one to five.”

Hellrung echoed the feelings of other board members, adding that he hopes to find a way for students to absolve themselves of a permanent record for their infraction. “They've just made an error in judgment. They made a misstep, as we all do,” he said. “They're just as wonderful after they've made their mistake as they were before. Then they're back and fully restored to our student community.”

During the meeting, the board voted to approve several courses for the coming year: “Traditional Algebra 1,” “Engineering Design and Development,” “American Voices: Study of Composition,” “American Voices: Study of Literature,” “Analysis and Critique: Study of Literature and Cinema,” and “Analysis and Critique: Study of Peace and Conflict.” The additional courses will not require hiring additional teachers.

The big-ticket decision was a vote to move a budget surplus of $2,196,089.68 to the Capital Reserve Fund. The surplus came largely from less spending on healthcare and special education costs.

Board member Gregg Lindner recommended caution, saying he wanted to keep some of the money in reserve to use for possible future needs. Transferring the whole amount, he said, “reduces options. I think the board should consider why we should move dollars before we have to move them. It seems this money could be used if we want to look at tax reductions, or increasing a buffer in the budget.”

In the final vote, transferring the whole amount was approved by a vote of 8-1. The money will be put toward the cost of replacing the HVAC system at Hillendale Elementary School, which is projected to cost $2,373,175, and which was part of the district's 10-year plan.

The meeting video, and other district news, is posted at www.ucfsd.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.






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