EYJC reports on special school board workshop on new student handbook

School Desk
The Escambia Youth Justice Coalition (EYJC) emailed to its supporters this recap of Monday’s Special Workshop on the new student handbook. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas had tried to push his draft through the school board without much input from them or the public. The board instead voted to hold the workshop over his objections.


We urged the School District do the right thing for all of our children.
Monday’s Special Workshop and Meeting can be summed up in one word – COMPROMISE!

After hours of negotiations and compromise between the School Board members and the Superintendent 3 of our 5 School Boards members voted in favor what will most likely become next school year’s Student Rights and Responsibility Handbook. Although we didn’t get everything we asked for; yesterday marked the first step in the right direction for ensuring all students have an equal opportunity to learn and grow in school.

We asked for the following:

* Identify District-wide tools and training for teachers and administrators to prevent and address conflicts and challenges as they arise.


* Reserve using exclusionary discipline only as a last resort. If students are removed from class, they should be “provided meaningful instruction, and their return to the classroom should be prioritized”;

-The Board is convening a task force, their first meeting is tomorrow, to draft a new Discipline Matrix aka Adjudication Guidelines.
-The Board expanded their “zero-tolerance” policy to include one more offense – drugs and/or paraphernalia – in addition to the two required by state statue – bomb threat and weapons. They decided to extend the following exception to all three zero tolerance offenses compared to previously only extending it bomb threats – “the Superintendent may consider an exception to the 1 year requirement of expulsion for zero tolerance offenses on a case-by-case basis, and then make a recommendation to the Board for a final decision.”
-Expulsion and Disciplinary Reassignment do not require a referral to a social or mental health service when the disciplinary action is in response to drugs or a pattern of behavior.

* Reduce the number [and length] of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests by providing targeted supports and interventions (like Restorative Practices and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports district-wide, which have a proven track record of creating safe schools);

-The Board’s new Discipline Matrix aka Adjudication Guidelines task force is charged with providing the Board with a recommendation on this issue

* Include “gender identity/expression” in nondiscrimination policies

*this was not a direct goal of the EYJC, however, it’s worth noting in light of the most recent national study, published the Center for State Governments Justice Center. states, “Millions of U.S. students are suspended each year for minor misconduct, with increased risks of losing ground academically, dropping out and entering the juvenile justice system…Students most affected are nonwhite, disabled, or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

* Provide students social emotional supports to supplement distractions, discouragement and lack of motivation through support staff and community partners (e.g. guidance counselors, school psychologists, school nurses, social workers, overlay and substance abuse counselors, violence and suicide mediators, ministers, mentors, volunteers, etc.)


* Have clear outlines and limitations on the roles of school police and city police; neither should be involved in routine school discipline;

-Slight victory. The Board failed to clearly define law enforcement’s role in school discipline; nor, did they define or delineate between minor student misbehavior, serious threats to school safety, and misdemeanors or felonies committed on campus.
-The new policy says parents will be notified immediately when law enforcement questions students on campus when a student is perceived to be a suspect. Parent communication and attempts to contact parents will be documented.
-The policy does not make students or parents aware of their Miranda Rights, or limit the presence of law enforcement in internal school investigations. The policy doesn’t extend parent notification to students who are questioned as a non-suspect. Lastly, the policy doesn’t dis-encourage law enforcement from disrupting the students schooling by questioning students on campus for incidents that happened OFF CAMPUS.

* Providing District-level guidelines on interventions, supports/referrals, and discipline; and

-The Board is convening a task force, their first meeting is tomorrow, to draft a new Discipline Matrix aka Adjudication Guidelines.
-Chapter 8 Discipline Strategies section B will be renamed and reformatted to separate Interventions from Consequences. A statement recognizing that the classroom is the “best place” for students was also added. In addition, the Superintended edited specific language expressing his support of faith-based Neighborhood Accountability Boards.
-The Board changed the term and language related to “Change of Placement” (not related to ESE services) to “Disciplinary Reassignment”.
– The Board failed to apply an appropriate level of brevity to the use of “Disciplinary Reassignment”. The Superintendent agreed to provide the School Board notice of he and his staff’s decision to “re-assign” students; however, the burden of ensuring due process and the right to appeal the decision is on the student/parent not the District.

* Collect and report dis-aggregated data on school discipline and other forms of school push-outs.


* Additional areas of compromise

-The District failed to adopt a district-wide Tardy policy; instead each school, and specifically individual secondary teachers, will create their own Tardy policy. The school’s and teachers’s policies shall be communicated to students and parents via a means determined by school site administrators.
-It is the responsibility of students who are suspended or have unexcused absences to ask for missed classwork or arrange to make-up testing. Individual teachers have the discretion to grant no credit, partial credit, or full credit.


The final vote to adopt the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook for 2014-2015 will be Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. in the J. E. Hall Center, 30 E. Texar Drive.