At a recent Milford School Board meeting, Dr. Jason Peel presented revisions to the Student Code of Conduct Grades K-5 for board review. Dr. Peel explained that representatives from each school, including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals and discipline deans helped craft the new policy.
“There were not a great deal of changes,” Dr. Peel said. “There were some revisions to the appeal process, hopefully to make it more clear and not necessarily change anything that would happen as we have in the past. Another change just adds the word “reporting” and then redefining to “FYI” is. This really is just a procedure that teachers use to document classroom behaviors that are happening in the classroom but also taken care of in the classroom, just to see how a student is doing over a period of time. Most notably, the large change is in the back where the old table and subsequent consequences have really been merged into one, nice table and category which is really only four pages long, probably much easier for parents, students and staff to also read and use.”
After Dr. Peel presented the changes, board member Dr. Adam Brownstein, apologized to constituents for stamping his approval on the policy the year before.
“I went through this with a fine tooth comb and there are many issues with this policy as written, so I first want to apologize that I approved this last year. I think in hindsight that was a mistake,” Brownstein said. “We are sending a conflicting message to students by simultaneously calling cell phones an illegal object and then, in the very next paragraph, telling them what they should do with that illegal object during the school day. So clearly, there’s a lack of consistency there.”
Brownstein continued, pointing out that the policy put cell phones in the same category as drug paraphernalia, but in the next paragraph, it states that as long as it is turned off, it can be brought to school.
“Additionally, it is not being enforced,” Brownstein said. “So, I think we need to have a rational conversation. Either it’s going to be enforced across the board or we need to take it out of our policy. Part of my emphasis over the next 12 months is we really need to do something about behavior and if we’re going to do that effectively, we need to have a clear set of guidelines about what our expectations are. Putting something in the code of conduct and then not enforcing it, sends the wrong message to both parents and students. On page three, we talk further about cellphone usage, and I’ll just say my previous comments and skip that for the sake of time.”
School Board President, Jason Miller, stated that he understood the disconnect in the policy and asked if Brownstein had a better solution. Brownstein explained that he would provide his suggestions when he finished going through the policy.
“I noticed on your Code of Conduct Authority, it says “when students are at a bus stop,” but we neglected to mention the bus itself,” Brownstein said. “Nowhere in this code of conduct do we reference the bus specifically and it is my understanding that the code of conduct does apply while they’re on the bus, so that is an easy fix.”
Under “Removal of Students from Class or Social Activity,” Brownstein felt that the wording was inaccurate and that it was another area that was not being enforced.
“I find it interesting because talks about when students sort of get amped up or when there’s no threat of violence, that student can be removed. But a lot of times our present push back is to clear the room, not clear the students,” And I would like to better define which of those two actions is going to happen, in which circumstances, because again, as a parent, if I look at this and I see “okay, disruptive students are going to be removed from the classroom to help facilitate learning,” and then my child comes home and tells me “I was acting normally and I was the one that got removed from the room,” I think that again sends a mixed message.”
Under a section entitled “Aggressive Groups and Gang Policy,” Brownstein felt that the language which stated an aggressive group was any group of two or more students who act collectively in an aggressive, confrontational or territorial manner was too vague.
“If that’s going to be in here, you know, you get two guys or two gals from a sports team that get in a tiff with someone else, technically that’s two people acting aggressively,” Brownstein said. “That’s a lot different than gang reference, which is what this is meant to apply to. So, I think that the verbiage they’re sort of overly vague and could be misconstrued. We could probably tighten that up a little bit. I think the changes that we’ve made at the end are a step absolutely in the right direction. What we had before was phenomenally confusing. However, I think that Category 1 is a little bit of a mess because everything is valued the same way. And the official deterrence, shall we say, of the first offense of this 30-minute individual reflection, how we can lump academic cheating and the penalty is a 30-minute reflection is a little perplexing to me.”
Brownstein suggested creating separate categories, such as Category 1A, so students get one level of punishment and a Category 1B which would have a harsher consequence. There were also offenses under Category 2 which were the same or at least very similar to those in Category 1.
“I’m a little perplexed how the exposing of one’s genitals in a public school is a Category 2 offense. If I was asked, I would assume that would be at least a Category 3 or 4,” Brownstein continued. “ In discussing this with some teachers, it is my understanding that perhaps the reasoning behind that is that this is for an elementary school, some of elementary school kids may not fully understand the implications of what they’re doing, and if so that’s fine. But part of my goal here is to also, this is going to pave the way for when we make the same changes, which I will also insist on, when we review the middle school and high school. I’m looking for some consistency across the board. So, if we’re going to treat different ages differently, that’s fine. But let’s be clear about why we’re doing that and what the implications of that are.”
The final issue Brownstein found in the policy was that threatening or causing a disturbance was listed under Category 3, again pointing out that it made no sense for this to be a Category 3 if exposing genitals was a Category 2. Board member Matt Bucher suggested that there be a committee appointed, comprised of teachers, administrators and parents who would take the next month or so to really look at what discipline policies are effective, and which are not.
“Because even though the matrix is worlds better. Worlds better because it’s clear, we have to be clear and concise, to the students and the parents first so they understand this offense will get you X, this offense will get you Y,” Bucher said. “I think the matrix is a good step, so that is definitely a step in the right direction. But I think that we’ve got to take a look at some of the data we just heard from Ross tonight, that they are experiencing more behavioral problems than they did the prior year or prior years. And the only thing that’s substantially changed in the discipline policy is the introduction of the initiative called restorative practices.”
Bucher continued, stating that he felt it was important to take some time to review the policies in depth to determine what was working and what was not.
“So I think that with it rather than pushing something like this through the first read, make a few corrections and then vote next month, I think, since it’s only April, the board needs to take a couple, two or three months, to really look at this discipline policy and how it’s being executed,” Bucher said. “And how effective it is in the initiatives that we’ve got in it. And a good many, I saw a few myself, but I’m not going to burden you with them tonight, some of the inconsistencies that we see in the discipline policy, the punishments or consequences as outlined. I think that we need to take a little time and I’m willing to certainly serve on such a committee to review it.”
Miller stopped Bucher from making the motion to defer to Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson to determine if the board had the authority to establish such a committee. Dr. Dickerson stated that he did not see a reason why the board could not form a committee, although there was one already established that consisted of teachers, administrators and discipline deans. Miller suggested that Bucher phrase his motion that the board would investigate creation of a committee to review discipline policies.
“So, if you look at the discipline, the end of the year, they usually have when you look at the discipline reports, and when you see them annually, you can see what type of behaviors that you have,” board member Jean Wylie said. “So, I think that we may want to look at those top behaviors and see [what they are]. I know that a lot of things have happened. And I know that there have been situations where the teachers and the principals have to work together are trying to make sure that the behavior is improving and which we have seen tonight and heard tonight about the things that are happening with our kids. I think too, we just need to look at maybe the behaviors that we see that are giving the schools problem in elementary schools and what we can do or suggestions that they have, also the things that they have done because they’ve done outside resources, they’ve done in school resources. So, what else can we do? Then we can look at those categories that we’re talking about.”
Brownstein agreed with Wylie, stating that was why he had so many comments on the policies.
“A 30-minute reflection time for a first offense, to me it’s a little bit questionable because I can almost guarantee that most of the teachers are not recording the first offense, the second offense or probably even the third,” Brownstein said. “By the time the disruption has gotten to the point that the teacher is actually filling out a referral, that event has probably happened several times at that point. So, it just doesn’t make sense to me to have policy where the very first thing you’re going to do is not follow the policy. That means it’s a bad policy. I would hope that people would agree with that.”
Wylie, who taught and served as a principal for many years, pointed out that many teachers try to handle discipline themselves in the classroom.
“They try to make the situation better, like you said, until it boils and there is no improvement. So that’s when the referrals start coming in because their hands are tied as far as trying to figure out or trying to deal with the behaviors in the classroom,” Wylie said. “So yes, that’s why we develop policies and policies are to be followed. And so therefore, if they’re not followed, and then when we go back and you investigate that, well, this teacher has all this information, what happened? How come we didn’t get it? How come the administrators didn’t know what was going on, the behavior person didn’t know what was going on?”
Wylie continued, explaining that teachers often say they tried to manage the situation on their own, even though the policy states what they should do. In some cases, teachers are encouraged to handle discipline as much as possible in the classroom by counselors and behavioral specialists. Brownstein stated that this was why he wanted teachers included in the discipline code process.
“But all we have at this point, what I have the past nearly a year is anecdotal data, or is trending in some circles, lived experiences from teachers, parents and students. And I gotta tell you what I’ve heard, we would be shocked,” Bucher said. “I don’t want to put us in a position where we’re rubber stamping something that’s basically the same as last year, though, and everyone is telling us that the results are worse than the year prior. I mean, we just heard it tonight. So that’s not our place to do that. I don’t think we’re doing our job if we do that. So, I think we’ve got to have some data. We’ve got to investigate further. We’ve got to make these corrections and we’ve got to come up with a policy that is enforceable, that will be enforced, that is clear, and it will improve climate.”
Wylie pointed out that some of the teachers she had spoken to felt they were not being heard by administrators.
“I understand too that teachers feel as though that when they do the paperwork or they submit it, that nothing is being done. So therefore, the communication between the teacher and administrator or discipline dean or whoever the case may be, they need to have that in front,” Wylie said. “They need to have communication between them. So that teacher knows, and administrator knows that this thing has been handled, this is the policy, this is what has happened so forth and so on. Accountability.”
Dr. Dickerson agreed that there could be a committee formed with additional representation, if that was the desire of the board. Miller asked if there was any information from other districts about how they were handling discipline policies. He felt that reviewing policies of other districts, even those who were not local, could help Milford craft better policies. Dr. Peel explained that it would be possible to access discipline policies for other districts. Bucher asked if the secondary discipline policy would be presented at the next board meeting and Dr. Dickerson stated they were looking at May or June as there were more revisions in the secondary policy than the elementary. The board approved the investigation of a committee to review both discipline policies.
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