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Student code changes being proposed in U-46


By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 is proposing changes to its Student Code of Conduct but could that lead to discriminatory practices?
  The changes were presented to the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday, June 4 and will be voted on at the June 18 meeting.
  In a memo from John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture, he said there were changes to nearly half of pages in the 50-page document. He said the changes came from recommendations from state and national organizations.
  “These changes are recommended to the Board of Education by the administration to provide further clarity and transparency in the U-46 discipline process that will also address disproportionate discipline practices,” Heiderscheidt wrote. “These changes are recommended to address fairness and equity for all students.”
  Heiderscheidt wrote the district has a “positive discipline philosophy” and the “focus is on teaching, rather than punishing, emphasizing and engaging by engaging in restorative practices to repair relationships and increase self and social awareness.”
  The idea is to keep students in school according to Heiderscheidt. That philosophy has appeared to already be in practice in the district with negative results including at Bartlett Elementary School where many parents came to address the board earlier this year including one father who said his daughter had to be kept home from school after death threats from another student who the district would not remove from her class.
  The district wants to focus on “relationships and community above rules and regulations” according to Heiderscheidt who claimed it’s not a “soft” approach and there still are “consequences.”
  Heiderscheidt also explained the districts continued desire to divide students by groups.
  “We are committed to applying school discipline policies and practices in a fair and equitable manner so as not to disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, LGBT students, students with limited English proficiency, or other at-risk students that have been historically marginalized in schools,” Heiderscheidt said.
  Board member Jeanette Ward asked prior to the meeting: “What precipitated these massive revisions?”
  The district’s response: “The work toward equity from the Board presentation a few months ago.”
  That presentation was done on the behalf of one, now former board member, Traci Ellis, when the district claimed staff were biased in how they implemented discipline. When asked by board member Phil Costello at the time for actual evidence, the administration either could not or would not as it claimed raw numbers were the sole proof of it.
  Ward said the code was full of “undefined subjective terminology and unaccompanied by objective academic standards.”
  “It is difficult to believe that an academic institution cannot see that ‘punishment’ and ‘consequences’ are equal terms along with sidestepping the terms ‘rules and regulations’ which are applied in daily life to assist us in living together in a civilized society. To wordsmith these terms to the degree this entire document does, is counterproductive to educating students to the reality of the world they live in. Part of our job is to prepare our students to be fully productive and participating citizens in the real world,” Ward wrote in her questions to the district.
  The district did not address all of Ward’s questions directly.
  Ward had asked: “If the district is to maintain equity in education, how is that achieved by treating students differently?”
  The district responded: “The purpose of the language is to build consistency for all students as currently our data indicates that discipline is not implemented consistently.”
  The code singles out certain groups, including transgender students, for protection from bullying and Ward asked if students will be compelled to use made up pronouns or biologically incorrect pronouns based on preferences and she gave hypothetical’s of a pro-life student being offended by someone wearing a pro-choice shirt or an immigrant student being offended by a shirt with an American flag and asked if that constitutes “psychological harm,” a term used by the district, and “will the offending student be asked to change?”
  “The outcome will depend on the Administration’s investigatory findings,” the district responded. No standards are found meaning it could be up to the partisan, personal preferences of the administrators involved.
  The district claims the authority to discipline students for acts done off district property, authority to enforce the code on private citizens on district property and parental authority over students to be able to question students without parents present.
  In response to one of Ward’s questions, the district said: “School administration sits in Loco Parentis to students while they are at school and have the authority to interview students without a parent/legal guardian being present.”
  The district could not give any costs for staff training on “restorative practices” but said it is seeking free training from “community agencies.”
  At the June 4 meeting, Ward said: “I have a number of issues with this…. First, justice should be colorblind. If a student does the crime, they should do the time regardless of what color they are otherwise chaos will ensue…. Second, bullying should be prohibited period without the necessity to call out every disparate group of people.”
  Ward noted the school shooting this year in Parkland, Florida where similar practices were put in place.
  Costello was the only other board member to question the code as he asked about a portion that stated: “Students may be asked to pay for lost, stolen or damaged property.” He said that the standard should be they “shall” instead of “may” pay the cost and asked: “What’s the grey area there?”
  Heiderscheidt said “it gives us more discretionary ability to address situations” because “we don’t know if a family can pay and if we’re going to do that or not.”
  Costello said: “Ok, I guess. I just think they should have repercussions. If they lost, I could see grey area there, but if they stole something or they damaged it there should be consequences even if it is to be waived under certain situations.”
  Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, said parents are responsible and said the district couldn’t collect “if they’re judgment proof.” Costello said he understood that, but the standard should be an expectation to pay for “poor actions or poor judgment.”

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