U-CF School Board settles on revision to student discipline policy
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board
has arrived at a proposed revision to the student discipline policy
after six months of discussions.
At their March 12 work session, the board devoted about 40 minutes to whether or not to allow a student to ask for a school suspension to be rescinded under certain conditions.
The issue arose after a football game at Unionville High School last fall, at which several students were charged with drinking or smoking and received out-of-school suspensions of up to 10 days, in accordance with the existing code of student conduct.
Some parents complained to the board that their children were caught up in poor decision making, but didn't deserve the severity of the punishments, which would be reported by the school as part of a student transcript for college applications.
The board discussed a policy revision that would not compel the district to report out-of-school suspensions to prospective colleges, putting the decision about whether or not to report such discipline with the students and their families.
Board member Elise Anderson said, “I'm not comfortable with non-reporting. If we're true to our mission, we have a responsibility to hold to our values. I don't want to put families in an ethical dilemma. I'm not sure how this serves anyone.”
Board member Carolyn Daniels said, “I do support the non-reporting option. I see it as empowering each student to decide what is best for them. Fifty percent of the school districts in the nation have decided not to report.”
Board president Victor Dupuis commented, “I'm philosophically in favor of non-reporting, and it has nothing to do with the events of last fall. It has to do with my point of view that it's inappropriate to have the question on the common app to begin with. I'm not concerned with any moral dilemmas that might be created. Frankly, there should be no dilemma. Students should report if they were suspended. There's nothing to be debated in that regard. Do I think they should have to? That's another discussion. In the meantime, I'm comfortable with the non-reporting policy as written here.”
Regarding whether students could appeal for their suspensions to be rescinded in some cases, board member Robert Sage said, “I'm in favor of a recision policy. When students are disciplined and there is a sense of injustice or something that's not done properly, this would give a path to correct a perceived wrong, or to limit the consequences to high school. Our current suspension policy has been too strict. Penalties that have been handed out in the past, including last fall, did not exactly fit the offenses that were committed. I see recision as a way to remedy those mistakes.”
Board member John Murphy favored allowing recisions, saying, “It's a common practice in criminal justice to expunge infractions if a person keeps their nose clean for a period of time. The flaw we had was that there was only one available remedy for the administration to impose. This new policy language is the first step for the administration to motivate good behavior, or imposing discipline on a case-by-case basis. I'm in favor of the recision policy.”
Anderson added, “I'm also in favor of recision as it's being proposed. None of this is taken lightly. In life, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should be afforded the opportunity to learn. And recision would have to be earned. It's a win-win from that standpoint.”
Dupuis also agreed with allowing recisions, saying, “Is this something we would have wanted to do, regardeless of the events of last fall? Some of these students might not have received a 10-day suspension, but I find it hard to believe they wouldn't have been suspended for at least one day. Drinking on campus involves at least a suspension. Whether there was injustice in the minds of some, it still would have resulted in suspensions. I want the policy to include something that goes beyond normal behavior. If we added community service, or mandatory sessions in study halls to talk about risky behavior, I'd be willing to consider recision.”
Ultimately, the board agreed to a policy revision allowing students a chance to have their suspensions rescinded. There will be a vote on the policy revisions in April.
At the beginning of the meeting, district superintendent John Sanville welcomed Steven Silva, who was approved as the new assistant principal at Unionville High School after a unanimous vote by the board.
“We had the strongest candidate pool I've ever seen in terms of administrators applying for one position,” Sanville said. “More than 100 applied.”
Silva thanked the board and Sanville, saying, “Throughout this process, it was clear from the school board how seriously you took this decision, how much you care about the community and the students, and it is truly an honor to be part of this community.”
The board also heard about upgrades to the fiber optic cable system at the high school. The computer servers are currently housed on a baker's rack that's braced with boards. The upgrade to 10-gigabyte maximum speed and new cables will cost $50,750 and will last for 15 years. The board will vote on the expenditure next month.
A much larger project to upgrade the computer network switches throughout the district's eight buildings is projected to cost $431,000. The board needs to approve the expenditure by March 24 to get that price, which will be part of the 2018-19 budget. The district currently has network equipment from four different vendors, and 85 percent of it is five years old or older. The system is vulnerable to power spikes, and the wifi signal has weak spots. The new upgrades will allow expansion, have battery backups and be more unified.
If approved, the upgrades would be installed gradually, without shutting the current system down, from June through next March.
Board member Robert Sage said, “This is a big-ticket item for us, but we have to remember that this is now an essential part of educating students. If the network is down, people can't learn. Of course, I'm sure that teachers can figure out something to do, but we're dependent on having connectivity to do a lot of things. There's more demand on our bandwidth, and we need to have redunancy so that if some part of it fails, it doesn't shut down learning.”
During public comment at the end of the three-hour meeting, Gavin Brezski, the student representative to the School Board, commented, “I'm very pleased to hear the board feels they have a direction in terms of the suspension policy. However, I have done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks. I believe that a recision policy is not the answer. In-school suspensions would be more beneficial for our district, particularly with Chromebooks we are using in our schools. Having students in the building, being productive, is a much more constructive way to get the discipline that the student needs, and will not infringe on their ability to continue learning.
“The second chance that should be offered is to gain back lost trust,” Brezski continued. “Accepting the consequences is a crucial part of learning. Having a suspension on record is part of the consequences. A balance needs to be struck, and I don't think the disciplinary code strikes it as currently written. Taking a student out of class is a detriment to the student and the teacher. I ask the board to re-evaluate what constitutes a suspension and to utilize an in-school suspension instead.”
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.