The Board of Education closed its calendar year by taking a significant step toward completing one of the biggest goals it set for itself in 2011.
Superintendent Margaret Dolan presented to the BOE for first reading the district’s heavily anticipated – and perhaps nearly completed – revised code of student conduct during the opening moments of last night’s BOE meeting. The code is a comprehensive product of months of meetings and discussions among not only BOE members, teachers and school administrators, but parents, law enforcement officers, health experts and – most significantly – students themselves.
“It’s not a generic code of conduct – it’s a Westfield code of conduct,” Dolan said.
During the summer, that finalizing the code was one of the district’s main priorities for the 2011-2012 school year. Last night’s presentation pushes the process into its next stage, where the document can be reviewed by BOE members as well as members of the public, who will be able to read the code on the board’s website and provide members with feedback.
The district’s desire to overhaul the code stems from a statewide effort to craft more effective student conduct legislation, initiated by the anti-bullying bill in January. Dolan introduced new anti-bullying policies earlier this fall.
To open last night’s meeting, Dolan briefly presented an overview of the process behind the code, including mentioning its committee members and its compliance with the district’s mission statement. Dolan also mentioned that the new code is meant to define not only the rights and responsibilities of students, but also those of teachers and all members of the school community.
During the Policies segment of the meeting, the BOE approved the passage of the district’s Core Ethical Values: integrity/honesty, strong work ethic and sportsmanship. The values are incorporated into the code.
It then approved both items “5500 Conduct/Discipline” and “R5500 Conduct/Discipline Code of Conduct” for first reading. The first item, “5500 Conduct/Discipline,” is a six-page document that provides an overview of the scope of the Code, including what its contents should be and the details it should contain. It also includes short sections pertaining to the proper district response to specific types of infractions, ranging from substance abuse and weapons offenses to harassment and bullying.
The second item, “R5500 Conduct/Discipline Code of Conduct,” is a 10-page document that specifically delineates the rights of school community members as well as the responsibilities of each class within that community.
The opening paragraph of the code reads: “The Westfield code of conduct establishes standards and procedures for positive pupil development and behavioral expectations on school property, including on a school bus, at school-sponsored functions, and as appropriate, for conduct away from school grounds including but not limited to electronic communication that interferes with the orderly operations of the school or the rights of other pupils and school community members.”
The code lists student responsibilities to include a “Safe and Orderly Educational Environment” as well as “Free Speech/Expression.” The Code also includes sections detailing the responsibilities of parents, teachers, administrators, chief school administrators, as well as the BOE itself.
Dolan said that students – and later, parents – expressed skepticism that either students or parents would read the 10-page document in its entirety. To account for that possibility, the code includes a condensed page (front and back) that includes a pair of charts. One chart lists the five levels of interventions that the school administration will be authorized to take in response to any violations of the code and sets examples of the minimum and maximum actions that will be justified at each level. For example, the minimum intervention at the least severe level (“Level 1”) is a student-teacher intervention, whereas the maximum intervention at that level justifies a loss of student privilege and/or a detention for up to two days.
The page’s other chart lists a range of code of conduct infractions, classifications of the type of infractions (either “Respect,” “Honesty” or “Safety” infractions) and the level of intervention that such an infraction would warrant. For example, the chart lists tardiness as a “Respect” type of infraction that warrants a “Level 2-3” intervention.
BOE member Mitch Slater pointed out that several infractions on the chart include a range of numbers (for example, a “1-5” instead of a “1” or a “5”) when listing what level of intervention is appropriate for a particular infraction. Dolan said a given infraction could range in its severity, and thus the chart permits flexibility as to what response is appropriate for a particular situation.
“Any theft is wrong, any theft is serious, but there are different levels of theft,” said Dolan, who noted that factors such as the student’s age and behavioral background would be considered.
The chart will be reviewed and revised (if necessary) on an annual basis, BOE member Rosanne Kurstedt said.
BOE President Richard Mattessich inquired as to the discretion that school administrators will have under the language of the code. Dolan pointed to language above the charts that reads: “With the prior approval of the Superintendent, the Principal/Designee may use discretion to impose interventions within levels or different consequences based upon the context, student’s age and abilities.”
As per state suggestion, the Code will also include a guide for both health and social services as well as legal services in the area.
The BOE is likely to continue its discussion of the code at its next meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012.