Interpreting the BCPSS code of conduct
The city schools have a new code of student conduct this year, designed to formalize the direction that the Alonso administration has been giving principals for months: Students who commit violent acts in school must be suspended under the law. Students whose offenses are not violent typically should not be suspended. If a situation warrants an exception, the principal just needs have a logical explanation why.
But even as Dr. Alonso repeated ad nauseum what seems to be a simple concept and said he doesn't care if a school is labeled "persistently dangerous" (a designation determined by suspensions for violent offenses), allegations abounded last school year that some principals were not suspending at all. If a few e-mails I've received from teachers lately are any indication, the confusion is continuing into this year, even with the code meant to spell out appropriate disciplinary actions for specific offenses.
I heard from a teacher at a city high school who said two students were not suspended after getting into a fight in a classroom this week. She said the principal's response was that "children can not be suspended unless the proper interventions took place." (If students have disabilities that impact their behavior, a host of legal requirements come into play, and interventions must be documented, but the teacher says these particular students are not in special ed.)
"Teachers at my school are so confused about the interventions-if a child is fighting, how are we supposed to know in advance?" the teacher wrote to me. "When I asked my principal in our faculty meeting what interventions needed to be in place for the students to be suspended for fighting, he told me curtly 'read the code of conduct.'"
I reread the relevant parts of the code, and here's what I see:
2) On page 11, the code lists "Prevention and Intervention Strategies," things like peer mediation, conflict-resolution and community service. It says these strategies "may be used (emphasis mine) prior, or in addition to, any disciplinary response to a student's behavior." This seems to be part of the ongoing effort to give principals discretion to use their common sense and make decisions based on the specifics of individual cases. It does not mean that interventions must be used before a student can be suspended for committing an act of violence. After all, as the teacher says, educators aren't mindreaders. You don't always know which kids are going to end up lashing out.
But sometimes you have a pretty good indication. If a kid is cutting class, coming in late or talking back, doesn't it make sense to intervene before the situation escalates?