U-CF School Board approves student discipline policy changes
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
After months of public meetings, study
and debate, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board voted to approve
a revised Policy 218, the Code of Student Conduct, on Nov. 19.
The debate began when students at a September 2017 Unionville High School football game were automatically suspended for smoking and other misbehavior in the stadium. Some parents complained to the board, saying the suspensions – which were automatically included on student transcripts going to college application boards – would be a black mark that could keep students from getting accepted. Some parents also complained that their children were suspended for merely being near someone who had misbehaved.
Board member John Murphy prefaced the vote by saying, “This is the result of more than 12 months of effort to improve our policies and procedures following an incident at a football game at the high school last year. … With this policy, one of the things we wanted to do was add some discretion to the length of a punishment. We wanted to allow alternative punishments, to potentially reduce the amount of time a student is out of the classroom. We wanted to provide support for students who perhaps have substance abuse problems, so they can seek some counseling. Also, we commissioned a committee of parents, educators, social workers, students, and a high-ranking law enforcement official. The policy we are going to vote on represents their recommendations, with some minor changes based on multiple policy revisions and follow-up meetings. I believe we have a policy that we can be proud of, but there are some parts that we want to watch over the coming year, to make sure there are no unintended consequences.”
Board member Gregg Lindner responded, “The changes being made today have some positive aspects. With the adoption of these guidelines, students who might have been eligible for recision because of having different levels of offenses will be eligible for recision. I do appreciate the fact that we now have some administrative guidelines. … What do I think is wrong with what we're doing today? One, I asked multiple times at board meetings if parents who had children suspended had been consulted, and asked their opinion about these policies. I was told no, and to my knowledge this has not happened to this day. Parents were part of the committee, but none who had been impacted were part of it.
“We seem convinced that in therms of less heinous offenses, that we are obligated to have students serve suspensions prior to having a hearing on the case. It seems that that, with the majority of offenses, taking a few days before suspension would have no ill effects.
“My board partners are going to approve policies that go beyond what I feel that a board should do,” Lindner said. “We're going to mandate certain social worker activities, and I believe that we've gone too far with that process. Also, we're now going to make recision come with community service activities, without regard to those activities which students may already have been serving.
“In my seven years on the board, I have not had any meaningful difference of opinion with our superintendent. I grade him very highly and I'm thankful he's the guy that's running the show,” Lindner said. “But on this particular issue, he knows we have had disagreements. However, Dr. Sanville, to his credit, recommended to this board that we not report some offenses to the college board. Unfortunately, that was defeated in what I thought was a close vote. … Let's remember that 75 percent of the schools in the United States do not report some, or all, of these offenses. The board has, in my opinion, gone beyond their reach. I know I'm not the only one in the community who feels that this version of Policy 218 is not the appropriate version to adopt.”
Board vice-president Victor Dupuis responded, “I've been opposed to a recision policy from the beginning. I remain opposed. However, the addition of a community service element and the assurance that we will review the effectiveness of this discipline policy at the end of this year has persuaded me otherwise. I am very concerned about how we review this at the end of the year, and the effectiveness of recision in general, and whether it's something that should be removed from the policy.”
Board member Steve Simonson added, “I think our approach to discipline will be much better as a result of this project, and the revised policy. But I hope we continue to improve this aspect of our governance. I am not in favor of the recision aspect of this policy, and I hope we will continue to keep students in the learning environment, rather than out of school, for students who are not dangerous or disruptive. But these are just two elements in what I think is a vastly improved program.”
Board president Jeff Hellrung commented, “The main elements of this revised policy were a stronger emphasis on safety and security, and attention to not just rights, but responsibilities. It was a call for mutual respect. One of the things we heard from parents who had students suspended a year ago was how unproductive they thought automatic 10-day, out-of-school suspensions were. There was a lot of collateral damage to students who had to be out of school for 10 days.
“This new policy responds to that concern. It responds by giving our administrative team more flexibility in responding to disciplinary offenses, including the opportunity to assign shorter suspensions, and alternatives to suspension that can provide learning opportunities for students. Finally, I believe it does improve our recision policy. It may not be perfect, but I'm also comforted that there will be a review after a year of experience.”
In the final vote, the board approved the new policy, with Lindner voting against it.
The updated policy is available for public review in the school board section of the district's website, www.ucfsd.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.