Student Code of Conduct discussed at school board

Terry RogersEducation, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Milford School District Board of Education continued discussion of the Student Code of Conduct

At a recent meeting, the Milford School District Board of Education continued to discuss updates to the Student Code of Conduct for both elementary and secondary schools. Matt Bucher and Dr. Adam Brownstein expressed concerns about several areas of the code, requesting changes.

“I propose we delete the paragraph, the sole paragraph which is segregated by itself having to do with restorative practices. That’s number one, without re-litigating that which we did a year ago,” Bucher said. “Number two, and this definitely applies to the secondary, although possibly the primary, the elementary as well. I propose, and let me scroll to the correct portion under the category three offense which is on page 24, at least on the elementary, I propose that it read as follows.

‘Number two, and this definitely applies to the secondary, although possibly the primary, the elementary as well.'”
Next, Bucher felt the section that read “and the electronic physical, verbal or written or action, indirect or direct that excludes, marginalizes or discriminates against other people or groups of people that are members of protected class,” be edited and  “members of a protected class” removed, replaced with the wording “this includes what could be considered racial epithets and ethnic slurs” added to the language, stating that he felt that would make the code more consistent with existing board policy and separate from the Code of Conduct.

Brownstein asked Dr. Laura Manges, who is currently the Director of Human Resources but previously served as Director of Student Services, to answer some of his questions regarding the code of conduct. One matter was simply a clarification regarding the mention of an appendix in one section that did not appear in both versions. The next concern Brownstein had related to students with disabilities who committed infractions and how those infractions were addressed, asking if one of the solutions was to change placement of that student.

“So, the team is required to conduct what’s called the manifestation determination to identify if there’s a nexus between whatever the behavior was either an IEP or 504,” Manges said. “Then an IEP team can always convene and should look at whatever transpired to lead to having to convene a manifestation determination, because that would be a pretty severe behavior. And make determinations not in a disciplinary fashion, but about the team’s ability to support the student in the programming that they are currently receiving.”

Brownstein explained that he asked about this section of the code due to feedback he had received from parents and teachers.

“So, one of the situations as it’s been conveyed to me as a board member that oftentimes I’ve heard from teachers who do not report behaviors, because the teacher believes that it is related to the student’s disability and therefore doesn’t go through that process,” Brownstein said. “And then, therefore, there’s not a paper trail, and therefore it’s very difficult to say whether the district is meeting that student’s needs. On the front end, a determination has been made by the teacher, not by the IEP or 504 committee. And so, I just want to highlight that based on the code of conduct, even if a teacher feels that a behavior is disability related, it should still be looked into is that an accurate assessment?”

Manges confirmed that Brownstein was correct, and that the administration would do their best to convey to the staff that any student with a disability who violates the student code of conduct could be referred to a team for review. She stated that the first point of discussion would be whether the programming and services were meeting that child’s needs and supporting that student in an effort to make them successful. Brownstein again confirmed that this would require that inappropriate behaviors be reported.

“Unless there is an alternative behavior plan, which some students on a 504 or an IEP already have, and there is a place on that document that allows the team to make a determination that the student is not following the Student Code of Conduct, but is following an alternative plan customized based on their needs,” Manges said.

Brownstein then asked about the section regarding combination of offenses.

“Okay, so I envision a student has some sort of outbreak let’s say a meltdown in the classroom, desks get overturned, cursing ensues. Teacher gets punched on the way out the door,” Brownstein said. “So, obviously, there are multiple infractions, and then the question becomes is my reading of this indicates that each of those infractions should be determined on an individual basis as part of a bigger picture, but each one of them is a separate incident, even though they happen concurrently? Is that your understanding?”

Manges explained that she was not part of the discussion related to this section of the code, so she was unaware if this was a change, but as an administrator, she encourages the team to take each infraction into account. She stated that administration and staff try to apply some level of common sense which is usually driven by the severity of the incident.

“So, the way this is written and I’m looking at this from the public’s point of view, how would the public interpret this?” Brownstein said. “So, it says ‘in separate incidents of violations of the code, offenses cannot be combined prior to disciplinary action, in order to determine the appropriate level and action or the latest events.’ But then it goes on to say offenses are to be considered separately. So, the verbiage to a non-educator, i.e., myself is, on one hand, sort of saying they’re distinct, but on the other hand, it’s kind of saying they’re all the same. And so, if somebody who is familiar with this specific scenario of should they be combined, should they not be combined, there may be a way that we could reword that to make it more clear to the public.”

Agreeing that the wording was confusing, Manges stated they would look at the wording. Brownstein explained that he would not want a parent to come in “waving this” because their interpretation was different. He felt the way the section was worded; it could lead to conflict.

“A clear reading of the policy, and I’m not advocating one way or another, clear reading of the policy indicates that if there are multiple offenses, they are to be considered separate and to use a word often used in the Department of Justice, charge stacking,” Bucher said.

The issue, according to Brownstein, was that the language was contradictory. In one section it says offenses cannot be combined prior to disciplinary action, but then the code says that the offenses are to be considered separately.

“I understand that what they’re trying to put in there, they’re trying to, maybe I’m misinterpreting it, but what they’re trying to avoid there is, and again, I’m not advocating it one way or another, but it looks like they’re advocating compressing the offenses,” Bucher said. “What they’re saying is pretty clear, that they want to avoid charge stacking. I am kind of with Dr. Manges on this, I’m not really sure that we don’t want to give the administrator the authority and the flexibility to do what he or she thinks is best in this situation.”

Brownstein agreed that administration should have the autonomy to do what is best. Bucher suggested that it would not hurt to look at the language to make it clearer, but that he did not want to create a harsher discipline code, but that they wanted to apply the code consistently. He felt educating frontline teachers and administrators was a better option than creating a “draconian code.” Brownstein thanked Bucher for the statement and agreed, stating that he was just seeking clarification as he had spoken to employees in the district who were not clear on the policy.

“The last for this document, and I am seeking some input from other board members because I do not have an appropriate solution to this dilemma,” Brownstein said. “But on page 14, where, and this section is predominantly talking about gangs, aggressive groups and gang policy is the title head, and they note an aggressive group is any group of two or more students who act collectively in an aggressive confrontational or territorial manner towards another student within the school or in violation of discipline rules of the district. That seems incredibly broad and problematic because of how broad it is.”

Using the example of two students walking down the hall toward their next class who decide to make fun of another student coming toward them down the hall.

“Student A says something, Student B says something and now they are technically an aggressive group because they are two or more individuals. And I’m not really sure that that is in the spirit of what they’re talking about,” Brownstein said. “I don’t see that problem. But my gut tells me that’s not the intent. They’re not trying to label two students who happen to be walking together who happen to violate the code of conduct. They’re not trying to create a scenario where they are a gang. So, any thoughts for board members on how we could remedy that?”

Board member Butch Elzey questioned how two students could be considered a gang. Brownstein explained that the policy actually labeled it an “aggressive group,” but there was further delineation calling them a gang. He believed “aggressive group” was a slightly lesser version of a gang. School Board President Scott Fitzgerald stated that the code noted that a gang and an aggressive group were basically the same when it came to violating the code of conduct. Brownstein pointed out that this was the only area in the code where the term “aggressive group” was used.

“I was not part of that discussion, but I am going to just think that maybe part of that language, that language specifically may be related to some of the regulatory language around bullying, and just some guidance that we’ve received in the past from our legal counsel,” Manges said. “They encourage us to be specific and not necessarily make a determination from certain points of view, but that of the individual that is potentially being bullied. So, they would feel like it was an aggressive group if it was more than one person and that I’m just surmising that that language may have come that we can certainly research it and respond back.”

Brownstein stated that Manges was more than likely correct, but if that was the case, the section should be moved under bullying and cyber bullying so that it did not appear that the code was implying two students were engaged in gang activity. Brownstein’s final comments were mostly about margins and typographical issues. He also felt that some of the language in the matrix could be changed so that the two codes of conduct were more similar and easier to understand.

The requested changes will be reviewed and implemented into the code of conduct before coming back before the board for additional discussion.











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