The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Student conduct code in U-46 passes by split vote
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 adopted the student code of conduct, but short timing and possible allowance of violating student’s Constitutional rights led to a 4-2 vote on Monday, Aug. 21.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said there were updates but “not substantial in terms of how it would affect our day to day processes,” but board member Jeanette Ward disagreed saying “I think that 24 out of the 34-page document have changes in them, and to me that’s substantive.”
“This is the first time that the board is seeing this document. Now normally we get to look at it for a cycle before we vote on it,” said Ward who suggested holding the vote at its next meeting.
Both Ward and Phil Costello voted against it, Costello saying “I don’t believe it’s been a reasonable discourse” and “I believe we just need more time to look at this.” Board member Sue Kerr was not in attendance at the meeting.
John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture, said that “we got late and long” in getting the code of conduct done. He added: “We had some pretty trying times at the end of the school year last year in our ability to get in front of parents, the CAC (Citizens’ Advisory Council) parents most importantly.”
For Ward, she had several concerns with the code of conduct but “my biggest issue is the random searches.”
“I personally believe our founders did not intend us to give up the privacy of our children or ourselves in exchange for security,” Ward said. “I have a philosophical objection to random searches. Attending public school ought not to mean that Fourth Amendment rights are weakened or forfeited, and for that reason alone I’m going to be voting no.”
The code of conduct includes a section regarding searches of individuals as well as the random searches sections which appear to contradict each other Ward pointed out.
Within the section concerning searches of individuals, it includes a “reasonable suspicion” standard for allowing a staff member to search a student which is defined in the code as having “knowledge that is sufficiently trustworthy to lead a District employee or School Official to believe s/he has a moderate chance of finding that a student or visitor possesses evidence of wrongdoing.”
By its very nature, a random search is done without basis of suspicion and appears to violate Board Policy 7.199: “Neither a mere hunch nor a generalized suspicion is a sufficient basis for conducting a Weapons Pat Down, Belongings Search, Contraband Search, or individual locker or desk search.”
“I believe the random searches section is incompatible with the ‘reasonable suspicion’ language of the searches section,” Ward said and added: “I do not agree that students can be subject to random searches when no reasonable suspicion is present. Random searches do not ‘respect all students’ individual rights to privacy’ in my opinion. Random searches do not provide protection of Constitutional rights in my opinion.”
Asked how often random searches take place, Sanders said “regularly, weekly” and Heiderscheidt said the district uses a randomizer to choose classrooms at U-46 high schools for weapons searches as well as for K-9 locker inspections for drugs at secondary schools. Included in the weapons search is the use of a metal detector on the student as well as a search through a student’s personal affects like backpacks.
According to a Public Trust and Support Update issued by U-46 in 2008, random searches were used as early as 1992 at least at one U-46 high school and were started district-wide that year.
Ward asked that the board be updated whenever random searches were conducted including the results of such searches, but the board’s majority did not want any oversight of the practice after Sanders said: “I hate to implement something’s that going to generate a lot more work for John.”
Donna Smith, the board’s president, said “I’m questioning what is that information going to tell us” and board member Melissa Owens said “you’ve given updates at CAC before” with “statistics that you gave us,” but Heiderscheidt said he’s never provided data from random searches but rather from general behavior events. He said there’s been a 48 percent drop of weapons since random searches have been conducted district-wide, but there’s no data to suggest that drop is from the random searches.
Board member Veronica Noland said there is only anecdotal thoughts and “I’m not a fan of continuing programs without some type of a program” and “I would hope that there is some way to measure its effectiveness.”
Another concern raised by Ward was that Student Resource Officers (SRO) are allowed to interview students without a parent present.
“I don’t agree that police should be able to interview students without parents present, or at least an attempt to contact the parents,” Ward said. “I have instructed my children that I am to be there if they are interviewed by the police or even the principal, and I encourage other parents to do the same.”
Luis Rodriguez, the district’s staff attorney, clarified that SROs are not allowed to interview students in a “law enforcement capacity” and Heiderscheidt said “the principal/designee will be present” and “we make every effort to notify the parent immediately upon that investigation” when it is for law enforcement purposes.
Ward also had concerns with sections dealing with bullying. Citing a policy in Minnesota government schools that may find a student guilty of bullying for simply requesting private spaces for restroom/locker room purposes if they did not want to share such spaces with a student of the opposite sex who identifies as transgender.
Although not an Illinois policy, Ward said “policies like that are becoming law across the nation” and asked if such that would be deemed bullying in U-46. The administration would not answer and Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, said “this does not fall under the student code of conduct” and “it all depends on the circumstances.”
Ward said: “More to the point then, why not just prohibit bullying period instead of naming certain classes of people who shall not be subject to bullying.”
There is a bullying section as well as “Bullying based on Bias Behavior” section which attempts to control thoughts with vague terminology saying holding “a negative opinion or attitude” about specific sub-groups, such as “gender orientation,” as being guilty of bullying.