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U-CF School Board debates student discipline and approves preliminary budget

02/13/2018 11:07AM ● Published by J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The issue of consequences for student misbehavior turned into an extended debate at the Feb. 12 meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board, with revisions to the district's policy still in question as the clock struck 10:30 p.m. and the meeting adjourned.

The student discipline policy debate was sparked after a football game last fall resulted in several student suspensions for smoking and other infractions. Parents complained to the board that some of the teens involved were guilty of poor decision making, and did not deserve the school suspensions that will show up when it is time for them to apply to colleges.

That led to several revisions to the policy to allow more leniency over what constitutes an infraction – “boisterous behavior” had been in the former policy, a point that several board members said was too strict. Opening a door to having a suspension rescinded by the superintendent has been written into a new draft of the policy, but that also sparked debate on Monday night.

Board vice-president Victor Dupuis said, “I'm concerned about putting our superintendent at incredible risk about making this decision -- just the reputational risk of putting our CEO in a position of making this decision, and potentially saying 'No' and having pretty dramatic fallout as a result of that. Or saying 'Yes' and having dramatic fallout from that as well.

“If we approve this policy, should we specify that not only must there be no more misbehavior, but that students have a community service responsibility on top of it? … In my mind, the whole issue is not rescision,” Dupuis continued. “The issue is college applications. This all revolves around whether or not a student, or the district, has to declare a suspension on their college application. Does a student have to declare a suspension if it has been rescinded? I know what the student will do. If their suspension was rescinded, they won't declare it. Are we putting them in a position where they're making a declaration on an application that is not true? I'm not sure if this is a fix, or whether it's just transferring the problem.”

District superintendent John Sanville, who would be the final arbiter of appeals if the policy is adopted, said he feels that asking a student to declare a suspension is overreaching by the common application process. “I think the requirement for students to report suspensions – the goal of that is a worthy one, and that was to make college campuses safer,” he said. “But what the research is showing is that it hasn't made any difference in making campuses safer, and in fact the practice of requiring students to report these suspensions may be discriminatory. Now we're left with, 'Can we, and should we as a body, address that overreach by the common application? We have legal advice that we shouldn't. Maybe we should go after the common app to fix this, but that's not going to happen any time soon.

“You're right. If we pass this policy, I'm going to say 'Yes' to some and 'No' to some, and there's going to be blowback, but I'm OK with that. I know that I will be fair,” Sanville said.

Board member Steve Simonson said, “I've got some serious problems with rescision in general. What is the second chance that we feel we are giving the students who have their suspensions rescinded? I'm troubled that behavior is being treated in a different way than our academics. If you screw up on your SAT, you can take it again, but the first one doesn't go away. If you screw up a class in a semester, that grade is there. Why should behavior be different? I'm not sure.”

Board president Jeff Hellrung responded that the revised policy “is not a do-over, it's not an eraser. The same high expectations for students are there. If there is a violation, there are consequences imposed. That comes with chances for re-evaluation and learning. None of that is undone by a rescision.”

Sanville pointed out that if Unionville-Chadds Ford does vote to change the policy and allow rescision of suspensions, “We'd be leading the charge in Pennsylvania” on the issue.

Hellrung suggested adding a community service component to the policy.

Simonson commented, “Using a suspension, and taking a student out of the educational environment, should be only for those situations where they will be disruptive to the class, or a danger to themselves or their classmates. I don't understand how taking them out of the classroom helps educate them. For the kind of behaviors that are egregious enough to take someone out, I'm not sure that a little bit of community service is enough to expunge that. I think we should apply other forms of discipline to those who are short of causing disruption and danger. But if you do commit an egegious act, I'm having a lot of trouble with making it go away because of a community service project that may be of substance, or may not.”

Sanville said he plans to make a couple of small revisions to the wording of the policy for the board to review in preparation for a vote in March. “We have to make difficult decisions, so let's make a decision,” he said. “It doesn't help us to table this, or to wait.”

The board also heard about two new scoreboards that are coming to the Unionville High School varsity baseball and varsity softball fields. The boards will be the same size, and in the same places as the current boards. Rick Hostetler, the supervisor of buildings and grounds, told the board that the Unionville Recreation Association “is donating the entire cost for the two scoreboards. The cost is $46,570. We want to make note of that very generous donation. We will do the installation in-house.”

There are spaces at the bottom of each scoreboard to sell sponsorship to local businesses, “and that revenue will support our sports teams,” Hostetler added. The school board will vote to approve the scoreboards, and recognize the URA, at their Feb. 19 meeting.

The board also voted to accept the preliminary general fund budget for 2018-2019, with total appropriations of $87,982,641. That forecasts what millage increases might be needed to finance the budget. It represents the maximum increase deemed necessary and allows the school board flexibility in preparing the final budget, to be approved in June.

The preliminary budget reflects an increase in expenditures of 3.60 percent, including technology initiatives, funding for a debt service on approximately $7.5 million to continue the ten-year capital plan, funds to address driver shortage issues in the transportation department, as well as all funds to continue the current education and support programs of the district.

The proposed preliminary millage rates for Chester and Delaware counties are 28.95 mills and 25.54 mills, respectively. These represent increases of 1.90 perrcent and 8.08 percent, respectively, and a weighted average increase of 3.13 percent. Exception dollars in the amount of $117,225 are necessary to avoid a referendum for these millage rates, and it is estimated that $118,980 of exception dollars will be available to the district.

“There is no difference in what is before you and what you approved in January,” Sanville told the board. “This allows the board to leave all options open. This is just the line in the sand in terms of the maximum amount, to allow the board flexibility going forward.”

The board voted 8-0 to approve.

For updated information about the district, visit www.ucfsd.org.

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

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