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SRC adopts revised student code of conduct

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 17, 2012 09:43 AM

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday evening to adopt a revised code of conduct that gives principals more discretion in handling disciplinary cases and prevents some infractions from being punished by out-of-school suspensions.

Students and organizers from the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools said that they felt the new code was a good first step but said it could still be improved – especially by putting more emphasis on “restorative practices” rather than punishment.

The new code divides infractions into five categories, from failure to follow classroom rules to weapon possession. Principals are given more discretion to handle most of them with an emphasis on intervention rather than out-of-school suspension or disciplinary transfers.

For the least serious, principals are required to use intervention, and suspension is prohibited. These include failure to follow classroom rules, dress-code violations, failure to carry a hall pass or ID, failure to participate in class, truancy, tardiness and cutting, possession of a cell phone or other electronic device, possession of  “other inappropriate personal items,” and profane language or gestures.

There is another group for which out-of-school suspension can be used as a  last resort, but intervention is required first. They include public displays of affection, inappropriate use of electronic devices, fighting (two students engaged in “mutual combat” as opposed to simple or aggravated assault), and forgery of an adult’s signature on an important document.

Principals are also given greater discretion for a host of so-called “level three” offenses, which include alteration of grade reporting,  destruction or theft of property, harassment and bullying, consensual sexual acts, breaking and entering, threatening students or staff, assault on staff or students, fighting that leads to serious injury, and alcohol and drug possession.

“Level three is where there is the greatest level of change,” said Greg Shannon,  deputy in the District's Office of Hearings and Expulsions, who, along with Assistant General Counsel Rachel Holzman, worked most closely on the changes.

Before, most such offenses received automatic expulsion or assignment to a disciplinary school. “This year, a principal can make a recommendation for a contract with intervention and support a recommendation for a lateral transfer from one neighborhood school to another rather than to a discipline school," said Shannon, a former District principal.

Bringing a weapon to school still requires expulsion under state law.

“We believe the School District is moving in the right direction,” said Yvonne Knight, a student organizer with Youth United for Change. “However, we need to implement restorative practices and have the code reflect those practices.”

Miguel Andrade, a youth organizer with Fuerza, the youth leadership arm of the immigrant advocate group JUNTOS, also applauded the SRC’s action, but said there needed to be more clarity around what infractions led to police intervention. That is especially important for undocumented students, he said.

“We need to have nonviolent schools in our communities that will lead students to college rather than to prison,” he said.

Officials said that such clarification will be included in a memorandum of understanding when the revised code is posted online.

At the request of Chairman Pedro Ramos, the SRC amended the resolution on the spot to include “as soon as practicable” in the adopted code a provision that would accommodate non-gender-conforming youth regarding uniforms and the dress code.

The SRC made the change after Saeda Washington, a graduate of Kensington Business and of Youth United for Change, told of being denied the opportunity to have her class picture taken in a tuxedo instead of a shawl.

“I am here to stress the importance of language” addressing this, said Washington, who was president of her class at the time.

Work on the revised code grew out of the findings of a blue-ribbon commission established to look at school climate after ethnically charged incidents of violence at South Philadelphia High School in 2009. The commission included representatives from the community and students, along with people from law enforcement and organizations that work with youth.

Holzman and Commissioner Lorene Cary, who heads the SRC’s committee on school climate and safety, said that despite the misgivings of some of the speakers about a lack of commitment to restorative practices, the District is moving in that direction.

Restorative practices and restorative justice emphasize having students understand the harm they’ve caused and work to correct it.  Other similar approaches include positive behavior supports, peer mediation, and youth court, in which students sit in judgment of peers.

Cary said the District is working on bringing all four types of programs to at least some schools and on establishing an overall culture that emphasizes prevention rather than punishment.

She said this can be expensive in a time of shrinking resources, so the District will also look to form more partnerships with outside organizations.

“There is no more public revenue there; part of what [we] are working very hard on is how to figure out how to get other resources that are available," she said. "There may be more resources here than we have been using or getting access to.”

She cited mentoring and arts programs, which can have huge impacts on students and ultimately on a school’s culture.

In addition, attorney Jody Greenblatt is working as a Stoneleigh Fellow on strategies for improving climate and safety in the schools.


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Comments (22)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 11:04 am

I'm sure Jody Greenblatt knows everything about Urban Ed. Heck, she's read a book about it somewhere. Put her in a class for 1 DAY. Also, this is likely another strategy for paving the way for Charters to take the place of the real schools, making it much harder to deal with discipline issues.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 11:13 am

At the high school level, Shannon's stated more lateral transfers (between schools). This means Renaissance schools will be able to transfer students out and into neighborhood high schools. This has not worked in the past, while will it work now? It just transfers one schools major infraction (see above: "alteration of grade reporting, destruction or theft of property, harassment and bullying, consensual sexual acts, breaking and entering, threatening students or staff, assault on staff or students, fighting that leads to serious injury, and alcohol and drug possession"). While I do not support "zero tolerance," this is a recipe for disaster if a student who assaults staff or students - including serious injury - is lateral transferred without getting to the root of the problem. Simultaneously, we are told there is no money for anything so those of us in the schools are just going to have to "deal with it."

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 17, 2012 11:34 am

If you want Peace, work for Justice. Until Poverty is addressed realistically, nothing of consequence will change. Poverty destroys everything it touches.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 11:59 am

Will Cary organize the mentoring and arts programs in schools? School starts in a few weeks. We can not start the school year without the resources the SRC knows are needed to make this "cultural change." No member of the SRC - nor their children/grandchildren - will be recipients of a "serious incident." Until the SRC does more than make edicts, they will gain little respect from the school staffs. Sure, mentoring and arts programs are helpful but they need staff, materials, etc. to make them happen. Instead, we have had cut after cut after cut.

Cary lives in lala land. She needs to get real.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 17, 2012 2:26 pm

I agree--Carey seems to be otherworldly or ...................Well, you know.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 12:33 pm

As a teacher I commend the SRC. I think it is very important to continue to lull our students into thinking that the world tolerates the behavior allowed inside the the halls of the average Philadelphia High School.

That way when the former students get slammed by the real world they will be even more surprised than if the schools had at least gone through at least the motions of enforcing the standards the students will live by for the 60 or so years they spend after graduation.

Now we hold that revelation till after graduation. And what a surprise it will be!

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 17, 2012 2:06 pm

They won't make it that far. That's why Corbett is building prisons. Nothing like a good, old set up.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on August 17, 2012 12:47 pm a non cursing person who has been a building rep I ask :

If a teacher uses inappropriate language then she or he can be written up or called in to the admins office for being unprofessional? reamed out by a parent? perhaps even falsely accused by a child? Excluding the child with Turrette's syndrome, how many after school detentions are needed to recognize the problem?

If a child has the cell phone out daily and then it is time for the standardized test [or any other test] and the state comes around what then? As the chikld routinely uses the cell ohone to contact frineds to bully or harm another child what then?

If a child during school time refuses to wear the SRC and SDP agreed upon uniform attire and more and more students agree to wear whatever then what?- The clothing issue in the news was about a female in a tux at her far as I am concerned that is not part of the academic educational day...leave that student be...

I have had and will keep having after school detentions, however after through doumentation, phone calls, repeated emails and letters home, I really want to know when can the child be given "in house suspension"...I ask in that without out of school suspension then the inhouse room will be full with standing room only.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 3:33 pm

The atmosphere is many schools is a free for all. Yet we are to practice restorative justice, Does any teacher out there believe this will work?? Of course not it it just the district trying to do two things, 1. Lower the suspension rate which is not even in the ball park of a well run suburban school. 2. Increase the appeal of charter schools since we cannot discipline the malcontents that prevent the good kids from learning. Also the charters schools get to sell themselves to the parents by advertising that they will through these kids back to the public school and away form your kid. My question is when the the district is finally all charters who operates the holding school for the kids receiving Restorative Justice???

Submitted by RogueTeacher (not verified) on August 17, 2012 1:48 pm

I agree that changes are needed in how disruptive behavior is handled with in the SDP, especially as a teacher. However, why would a new Code of Conduct be implemented without the necessary supports being readily available and worked out? Yes, that is a rhetorical question.

In my classroom I try to create a peaceful environment through mindful meditation and yoga practices, and through community building exercises so that the kids feel safe and better able to deal with and/or confront those issues that may cause them to go offline at times. However, I've had to pay for such training with my own money, and I've had to make sure that those practices are a part of my everyday living. I also find that within my school, this is not the norm, so while my students may be behaving one way in my classroom, they can be pushed to run amuck when they go elsewhere. Therefore, the school must create a culture that is supportive and conforming to similar methods across each classroom. I'm not suggesting a one-size fits all method, but at the very least a culture that is nurturing and supportive, yet firm and consistent. Inconsistency is the SDP's downfall. This new Code of Conduct seems like it just opens that inconsistent door a bit wider.

Teachers will be responsible for more counseling services within the classroom under this new Code of Conduct. Yet, we will be expected to keep up with what we are actually educated, certified and paid to do, teach.

How are we preparing these children for their future in the real world? I'm not a punish and deliver only consequences person, however, in the real world there are rules and laws and consequences that are non-negotiable if they are broken. Is this really helping them?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 4:28 pm

Let's look at the issue of the revised student code of conduct from another lens. First, incomes a new superintendent who selects an issue that will give him and the SRC the biggest bang for the buck. Student discipline is easy to document and collect up to the minute data. After Dr. Hite's first 100 days he and the SRC will spin a story that the SDP is a safer, gentler place where suspensions have been reduced and toxic school climate is making a shift for the better.

Second, students who are repeat offenders do not get accepted into charters. With fewer suspensions recorded on his or her student profile repeat offenders stand a better chance at getting into an existing or soon to be new high school charter.

Anyone who spends even one day inside of a school knows that turning a toxic climate around requires more than changing a few sentences in a student code of conduct. Students are not the only people who bring issues and toxic behaviors to school. Every individual in a school play a vital role in school climate from custodians, noontime aides, building engineers, classroom assistants, teachers and principal. Let's be honest. Some of these folks are unpleasant and spew negativity that keeps a school in turmoil.

The way we interact with students and colleagues leave footprints that create a positive environment or one that is very toxic. Every school has issues with a few employees who are mean spirited and abrasive with students and adults. And there are the adults who don't speak up because they don't want to get involved.

The issue of school safety and climate is broad and complicated. It encompasses more than students and the periodic irate parent. It's involves everyone.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 5:33 pm

This is a set up, I totally agree to make the Charters more appealing to the parents, leaving the knuckle heads in the real schools until they're old enough for prison.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on August 17, 2012 5:23 pm

The thing is, we in the SDP were not able to to practice zero tolerance across the board in the first place. Remember the take the cell phone rule? As if we were going to get into brawls over phones and seand them downtown, regional office, then eventually the school admin could make the decison...and on down it goes....teachers such as my self called home and wrote notes via email and snail mail for detentions and requesting cell phone discipline at home. Was it work? Yes, but several people were found to have stolen phones from home, siblings, parents, and others....which led to uncovering other issues.

Any sensible teacher knows to work first with talking to the child, then home and if need be a consult with school admin. Yet, it is only now that the SDP and the SRC has caught up. Why? NCLKB and those AYP ratings count student atendence.
The real point is the rules for public schools vs. charter are not the same and we all know it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 9:10 pm

I will be recommending that my fellow teachers call 911 for Level Three offenses this year to protect themselves and their students. . .since the SRC doesn't give a damn about either, only their "numbers." This just makes the 99% of kids who are hardworking kids, who do the right thing, FURTHER hostages to the 1% who are punks.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 10:11 pm

Lorene Cary needs to abandon her Crystal Ship and actually spend some time talking to teachers about what is wrong in the district. Better yet, spend some time teaching in various schools for at least a week at a time. Only someone who never taught could have such naive notions of how to run a school. Doesn't she realize that this joke of a policy will hurt not only the teachers (as if the SRC ever gave a damn about them), but the children that do want to learn. We can not protect our students when classroom thugs are coddled by clueless administrators.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 18, 2012 8:53 am

It's all another set up to pave the way for the Charter Lie to advance. They know this new rule is counterproductive. I agree, Ms. Carey seems genuinely out of touch in a seriously bug way.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 19, 2012 11:54 am

My bad--I meant big way, not bug way.

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2012 8:22 pm

It all boils down to a lack of support for teachers and fear of lawsuits by administration.

IF, and only if, they actually intended to follow through with this, okay. We all know this is just another unfunded mandate.

We really need to figure out the role of central office. Right now, they seem to be decentralizing everything but not making sure anyone else is picking up the slack.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2012 12:21 am

This is going to create chaos inside most schools by the end of September, as the kids figure out that disrespecting each other and the adults carry no serious consequence. I cannot think of any workplace, in any profession, that would tolerate abusive, disrespectful, and hateful language and behavior--except for the School District of Philadelphia. What lesson are we teaching the kids? My favorite is where a fight between students "may" result in a suspension. This is all an attempt to make te District "appear" safer than it is as administrators can claim that they have few suspensions, meanwhile they have reduced the Support Staff in all schools and came up with this lame code of conduct, which will actually drive UP the number of incidents and make the schools even more unsafe.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2012 8:09 am

Even under Zero Tolerance, fights between students, at least in my elementary school, RARELY resulted in suspensions. I can't wait to see what will happen now. Jerry, get ready. It looks like multiple items listed under "XVIII. Working Conditions of Teachers, Section E. Pupils, Programs and Curriculum" are about to be violated.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2012 2:06 pm

At the elementary school where I taught last year, you could call a teacher a f.... b...., give a student a black eye, or hit a student in the face with a hardback textbook and not be suspended.

Do you mean to tell me that there are actually public schools in Philly where this was not the case?

If so, I am astonished, and would have loved to work there. But now I guess all the schools will be like my former school - lawless.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 6, 2012 12:31 am

What about cellphone in the school can the kids have them?

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