U-CF School Board grapples with large issues at work session
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
During a meeting that stretched nearly
four hours on Oct. 8, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board
wrestled with some of the largest issues on their agenda.
The first hour was devoted to revisions being made in Policy 218 regarding student discipline and student conduct. The changes have been discussed for more than a year, after a group of parents confronted the district over the suspensions of some students when several were caught smoking at a football game last fall. Questions of who was guilty and who was merely associated with the event led to a broader discussion of automatic suspensions, which are reported on student transcripts for college applications.
The broadening of possible consequences for infractions has gone back and forth for months, with the possibility of having certain infractions rescinded from a student's record causing the most debate.
District superintendent John Sanville said, “The recision addition to the policy began to be discussed in May. There has been discussion for the beter part of the last year at board meetings. ... In the end, it was decided to keep recision in, with the change of adding a community service element, and the change of requiring some sort of teacher/staff feedback to me as part of the consideration for recision.”
The nature of the community service was also discussed. Sanville said, “For the purposes of recision, the community service would need to go through the high school administration for approval. It would be managed by the school, provided by the school, and would be something that we would adminster and oversee.”
The type of community service could vary, Sanville said, and would include options for students who perhaps could not physically do cleanup work, but could serve at community events held at the school, for instance.
“I agree that we need to have different types of community service, because there may be a host of reasons why someone could not be able to do something,” he said. “Those who seek recision and fulfill community service hours would work through the high school administration and the principal to find out what options there are.”
Board member Gregg Lindner commented that, while he was in favor of simply not reporting suspensions to prospective colleges, as a second choice, he did support recision. “But I'm concerned that, say we have a student who gets suspended, they would then have to go see a social worker for four sessions, be assigned community service, and have teacher feedback. I think we've bundled a lot into recision. It makes me not want recision, given the types of things that are now being put on the plate. I'm very concerned about where we're headed with the new policy we're discussing.”
A committee of administrators, students and community members is still debating and evaluating any policy changes and their effectiveness, and will ultimately evaluate any changes towards the end of the school year.
Sanville added, “One of the fears is that students will see recision as, 'I get one freebie, so I'm going to misbehave and I'll get the suspension rescinded.' So we need to see if our suspension rate spikes. Do students who apply for recision change their behaviors in a positive fashion?”
Board member Carolyn Daniels asked, “What I'm struggling with is, if we had a situation with a graduating senior, it's kind of a lot that we're asking them to do by adding the community service. With all of the college applications and all the other things going on at that time, it just feels like we're tying a lot of things together. They may all be good things, but it's just not as tidy as simply not reporting suspensions. I'm just trying to think how the student proceeds, given everything else they have going on at that time.”
Board member Tom Day responded, “This feels like 'Groundhog Day.' We've discussed this for nine months, talked to countless community members, and here we are again.”
The changes made to what types of infractions merit a suspension were also addressed by Sanville, who said, “The reason for the level of infraction is a line in the sand that I drew. I've sat down with kids that I think are worthy of recision, who have made simple mistakes, or it wasn't their fault. They had these minor things on their record that preclude them from being eligible for recision. The line that I drew was not in a good place,” Sanville said.
Assistant superintendent John Nolen, who is working with the committee studying the discipline issue, said, “It's fair to say that the committee, as a whole, found a strong consensus. We understand the board can go with our recommendations or not. But the committee wants to keep recision in the policy. There may be some misunderstandings about it, so we need to give it some time. But, as a committee, we liked adding community service and adding teacher or staff feedback.”
The board will revisit the policy changes at a work session in November, and take a vote at the regular November board meeting.
The possibility of students serving an in-school suspension was mentioned, but the staffing requirements to monitor students were considered cost-prohibitive. Such in-school suspensions are not required to be reported to colleges. While elementary-age students occasionally serve in-school suspensions, expanding the policy to middle school or high school students would require extensive hiring, Sanville said.
“Policy 218 has in-school suspension as one of the options for certain offenses for K-12,” he said. “The fact is that it only happens occasionally at the elementary level because of staffing. We do not have that kind of flexibility at the middle school or the high school. There's no way we could run it without additional resources, meaning additional staff.”
Other policy changes include requiring that principals consult with the superintendent before suspending a student.
During public comment, the recently unveiled Outdoor Facility Study was the topic of several complaints. The proposal gave a range of possible changes and additions to the recreational facilities at schools, mostly the middle school/high school fields.
East Marlborough resident Jack Greenwood told the board that the expenditure for outdoor facilities was an example of overspending by the district. “For 45 years, with the exception of the first 10, I can never remember my taxes ever going down, or even remaining the same,” he said. “Because of projects like the outdoor facilities project, my taxes always go up. I and others who want to live here are left to pay for all the frills that were deemed necessary. … I believe in public education, but I believe I have paid my fair share. ... How many of you have physically observed each area of this project? If you have not, how can you make an informed decision?
“I don't see a need for this project,” Greenwood said. “As I view your long-range plan, it's based on constant spending, year over year. You will never reach a point where what we have is satisfactory. It is time to only spend on true and justified needs, as opposed to imagined needs. The taxpayers are counting on it.”
Chadds Ford resident Lisa Chismayer added that, “I've heard no real school need for this extraordinary expenditure. Right now it looks like a big solution searching for some justification. You ought to think about that. We seem to be working at this backwards.”
Resident Mark Stookey also spoke, thanking the board for posting details of the Outdoor Facility Study online, “but the Q&A section is one-sided,” he said. “I hope this doesn't indicate that the board and administration have made up their minds. There are more points of view and better answers.
“When it comes to the use of school facilities by outside community groups, the question should be, 'If no outside groups used our facilities, would they be enough?' Since outside groups account for about 50 percent of the use of a large subset of the fields, if usage by outside groups fell to zero, the suggested plan would be vastly different, and much smaller.
“Who pays for our facilities? How much do they pay?” Greenwood demanded. “I have made two right-to-know requests. The district responds that they don't have it. Is this amateur hour in financial management? The public deserves to know how much they pay. It matters.”
Board president Jeff Hellrung responded, “Starting tonight and going forward, you will see more information, and hopefully the information you requested tonight.”
Board vice-president Victor Dupuis added, “There are quite a few of us who have walked those fields, who have coached for a number of years, and have seen people nearly hit with baseballs, or kids tripping on fields that have a five-foot variance in elevation from one side to the other. We've seen the needs, but we also have diferent opinions on a lot of the aspects of this plan. I don't think there's any unanimity in any respect to this plan. We're still trying to figure out what aspects of this plan meet the needs of the district. This is an ongoing conversation, and it will be over the next several years.”
Updated district information is posted at www.ucfsd.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.