Subcommittee making headway in effort to update school discipline policies

Posted: Jun. 11, 2013 6:49 pm Updated: Jun. 25, 2013 7:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Quincy School Board's Discipline Subcommittee will ask the full board next week to approve some proposed revisions to the Quincy High School discipline policy for inclusion in the student handbook next fall.

Some changes also were suggested for Quincy Junior High School's handbook, which also needs to be printed soon for distribution to incoming students.

In addition, the committee is taking steps to formulate a consistent disciplinary policy for Baldwin Intermediate School, which serves grades 4-6, and all seven elementary schools serving grades K-3. Any policy changes authorized by the School Board will then be printed in new handbooks issued to K-6 students this fall. (Click here to see the proposed policy changes.)

The committee met for more than an hour Tuesday afternoon at the Board of Education headquarters, 1416 Maine. It then endorsed some proposed changes to the QHS discipline code presented by Principal Danielle Edgar.

Edgar recently led a QHS team in reviewing the school's existing discipline policy to make updates where deemed necessary.

One recommended change calls for beefing up the potential penalties for students who engage in acts of defiance or disrespect.

"We're specifically targeting that as an area of concern," Edgar said.

In the past, the QHS handbook listed only "defiance" as one of many prohibited behaviors. Under the revised policy, "defiance/disrespect" will be listed together and treated equally.

Previously, the consequences listed for defiance called for detention with a teacher. If that penalty went unserved, the student could be hit with after-school detention, Saturday School or an in-school suspension.

Now, the possible consequence for defiance/disrespect reads: "Detention, Saturday School, in-school or out-of-school suspension (up to 10 days). Repeated or egregious acts may result in an alternative placement or expulsion."

Edgar said the QHS team also clarified the "disruptive dress" policy, which provides guidelines about inappropriate clothing or accessories. The following line was added: "Students who violate this policy will be given school-issued clothing or will be sent home for a change of clothing. Those who ignore these regulations and options to correct the violations will be suspended one to 10 days, in or out-of-school."

QHS is also strengthening its policy on fighting to include the following warning: "Repeated or egregious acts will result in an alternative placement, suspended expulsion, or expulsion from Quincy Senior High School."

New to the handbook will be a prohibition against physical or verbal abuse of school staff members. "Any profanity or aggression directed toward a staff member will result in a suspension of up to 10 days," the new policy says. "In addition, violations may result in a recommendation for expulsion or an arrest."

The committee will meet again next Tuesday to discuss some changes proposed for Quincy Junior High School. Committee Chairman Scott Stone said he anticipates the proposed changes will be forwarded to the full School Board for consideration at its June 19 meeting.

The committee heard a report from Sara Cramer, principal of Washington School, who led a review of the various disciplinary policies and handbooks used by the seven elementary schools.

Cramer said disrespect and physical aggression/contact were common problems at all of the schools. In most cases, those problems occurred primarily on playgrounds and in classrooms. She noted that all of the schools have implemented PBIS programs and Covey's "Seven Habits" as a way to encourage good decision-making by students.

But not all of the schools deal with issues in the same manner. For example, Cramer noted that Washington School is the only K-3 building that conducts in-school suspensions. In other elementary schools, students are sent home to serve suspensions.

"We keep our kids at school instead of sending them home," Cramer said. "Typically if we send them home, they're out running around the neighborhood."

Meanwhile, some schools have after-school detentions while others don't. And not all handbooks list the same policies. For example, only one K-3 building handbook says anything about cellphones, while five of the seven make reference to a prohibition against dangerous weapons, and just four cite a policy against gang involvement.

Cramer said a committee of local principals would like to see a common handbook adopted to provide more consistency between the schools, but the principals don't want the district to be too rigid in forcing all schools to adhere to the same things.

"We did agree that there does need to be some consistency, but allow us some flexibility to keep our identity," she told the committee.

Committee members and school officials had a lengthy discussion about the importance of deterring inappropriate behavior at an early age and the need to have local parents provide disciplinary guidance for their children.

"Fixing it at the early stages is better than trying to fix it at a later stage," Stone said.

"We need to get parents involved," said Julie Stratman, Monroe School's principal, who was recently named academic director for Quincy's elementary schools.

"A lot of these kiddos are coming from families where this is acceptable behavior in their household," Stratman said. "We've got to change how it is at home. It's almost a cultural change. But if we don't have parents on board, what we're trying to do at school is really going to be difficult."

Superintendent Steve Cobb agreed parents need to encourage their children to avoid misbehaving at school, but this is easier said than done.

"We assume parents know what they're supposed to do. They don't," Cobb said.

"We have to teach them what to do."