By EDWARD HUSARHerald-Whig Staff Writer
The Quincy School District is exploring the legality of asking students to perform community service work as an alternative to suspension.
School Board member Scott Stone, chairman of the board's Discipline Committee, said several board members have asked the district's legal counsel to explore the matter.
"It's just a desire by the board to have some options," Stone said at the committee's Tuesday afternoon meeting.
Stone said a student hit with a three-day suspension for violating rules might prefer to stay in school and do community service during non-school hours.
However, he noted, "some kids want a suspension because they treat it as a vacation. In those cases, we may choose that suspension is not an option for them. They're going to get community service."
David Penn, a member of the district's legal team, said the issue is not clear-cut.
"Is it involuntary servitude?" Penn said, wondering aloud if the requirement to perform community service could be deemed a violation of the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery and other forms of involuntary servitude.
Penn said some court decisions across the country have indicated community service might not be a suitable option for schools. He said the district also would have to take into consideration other potential "risk issues," like what would it mean to the district if a student staying after school to perform community service somehow got injured.
"There are a lot of different hurdles that we have to look at if to see if we can do it or what would be the mechanism to put it in place," Penn said.
Stone said the issue would be discussed further at the committee's next meeting in July.
The committee also heard reports from building principals on how new, tougher discipline policies worked out during the past school year. Discipline referrals were up for some infractions, down for others.
At Quincy Junior High School, harassment/bullying dropped 39 percent while tardiness dropped 32 percent, according to Principal Dan Sparrow. However, the number of "disruptions" rose 3 percent.
"Things are trending in the right direction," Stone said.
The committee recommended that the full board adopt proposed changes to the Quincy High School and QJHS handbooks. At QHS, for instance, most of the changes in the handbook reflected new requirements mandated by laws approved by the Illinois General Assembly during the past year, according to Principal Danielle Edgar.
One change in the QHS handbook requires all sex education instruction to be "age appropriate, evidence-based and medically accurate." The new law requires Illinois schools that teach sex education to provide information about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases and not just focus on abstinence.
Another addition requires the parents or guardians of any child between ages 6 and 17 to assure the child attends in the district in which he or she resides and attends the entire time school is in session.
Some language was added to the handbook to clarify school policies. For example, a paragraph on "Internet threats" was added to make it clear that a student could potentially face suspension or expulsion for making an explicit threat on an Internet website against a school employee, student or any school-related personnel.
Also new is a paragraph that specifically prohibits sending, receiving or possessing sexually explicit pictures or images, commonly known as "sexting."
Another change makes it clear that school authorities may require a student or guardian to provide a password to gain access to a student's social networking website if school officials have reasonable cause to believe a student's site contains evidence the student has violated a school disciplinary rule.