The board of education meeting on May 14 began the 30 day comment period for residents of the Garden City School District to be heard on the proposed policy changes in the district's Code of Conduct, as recommended by the Project SAVE Committee.
Dr. Stephen Neidell, the interim assistant superintendent of schools, made the report on the proposed changes on behalf of the SAVE Committee. He began by explaining how this committee came into being. According to Neidell, three or four years ago there was a task force that was started in New York State to deal with the issue of school violence. As a result of that task force, Project SAVE (Schools Against Violence in Education) Act was established. The purpose of this act was to improve school safety and ensure a safe and effective learning environment. This law was signed into effect in July 2000 and it is mandatory that every school district in the state be in compliance by July 1, 2001.
As part of this law every school district had to establish a Project SAVE Committee comprised of students, teachers, administration, parent organizations, school safety personnel, school board members, representatives from local law enforcement, and representatives from the Emergency Response Agency. Dr. Neidell introduced the members of Garden City's committee and thanked them for their participation.
According to Neidell, the major components of the SAVE legislation involved: the district's Code of Conduct, Districtwide School Safety Plan, Building Emergency Response Plan, Character Education, fingerprinting, prohibition of silent resignations, whistle-blower protection, and school violence protection training.
Neidell stated that the goal of the committee was to reach consensus and they were able to do that on all the items they considered with the exception of one. Consensus, as defined by Neidell is, "Everybody has a right to be heard, everybody has input into the decisions being made and although they may not be happy with the decisions they can accept them and support them."
Neidell explained that Project SAVE modifies five of the district's current policies. The policies modified deal with visitors to the school, public conduct on school property, corporal punishment complaints, searches and interrogations, and the current policy on student conduct and discipline.
A unified Code of Conduct was established by the New York State School Boards Association, the NYS Council of School Superintendents, and the School Administrators Association of NYS and distributed to school districts throughout the state. The sample code of conduct was then reviewed by the Garden City School District's counsel and the committee and though they accepted most of the recommendations, according to Neidell three or four significant changes were made by the Garden City Project SAVE Committee in establishing the district's new code of conduct.
Neidell explained that one new component of the code of conduct, which is part of the draft proposed to the district is known as Essential Partners. This portion of the code discusses the expectations and roles of parents, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, superintendents, and the board of education.
Another component of the new code deals with the student dress code, which is one of the areas in which the district's committee made changes. The committee was not in complete agreement on this topic but they did reach consensus. The original draft presented to the district included: "Recognize that extremely brief garments such as tube tops, net tops, halter tops, spaghetti straps, plunging necklines (both front and back) and see-through garments are not appropriate; Insure that underwear be completely covered with outer clothing; and not include the wearing of hats in the classroom except for medical or religious purposes." Neidell stated, "Since it was the feeling of the committee that the student dress code would not be properly reviewed and discussed and appropriate language placed in the code of conduct prior to its implementation on July 1, 2001, the committee agreed to remove the above three items and replace them with our current policy which reads: 'Attend school in appropriate dress that meets health and safety standards and does not interfere with the learning process.'"
The SAVE Committee took their recommendations a step further and said that the following should occur regarding the school dress code: "A committee be formed when school reopens in September for the 2001-2002 school year; committee be comprised of school administrators, teachers, PTA members, parents and students; committee decide by what means to secure information, survey students, etc.; committee to make recommendations to district SAVE Committee who will then review and recommend any changes to the board of education."
Another component of the code of conduct is the prohibited student conduct, which Neidell said is similar to the district's current policy with a few additions. According to Neidell reporting violations is a new part of the code, whereby students and staff are required to report the violations to the proper authority who will then impose appropriate sanctions.
Disciplinary Penalties, Procedures and Referrals is another portion of the code which is similar to the district's current policy but Neidell explained that there is one significant change. This change is that now a teacher may remove a disruptive student for up to two days from that class only. The teacher must inform the student why he or she is being removed and a student has the right to explain their reasons for a particular behavior before the removal occurs unless the student poses an immediate danger or threat in which case the student can be removed immediately. Parents must be informed when a student is removed and that notice must occur within 24 hours.
Another change between the draft and the district's proposal has to do with what is termed "violent acts." The original draft, according to Neidell, described a violent act as kicking, hitting, scratching and things of that nature. The draft recommended that students who act in this manner receive an immediate five-day suspension. The district's committee recommended a one to five-day suspension, providing the school to determine the punishment based upon the specific case. For a one to five-day suspension parents must be informed within 24 hours and the student and parent have a right to an informal conference. A five-day or more suspension will result in an automatic superintendent's hearing and before that hearing occurs a letter is sent home to the parents so that the parents have all the information about what their rights are. Alternative instruction must be provided for any student who is removed from class.
Student searches and interrogations are another component of the code a student must be informed why he or she is being questioned. If there is suspicion that a search may result in evidence that the student violated a code the search can be conducted. Student lockers and desks can be searched any time without student permission because those items are property of the district. Police involvement in searches and interrogations require a police warrant, probable cause that a crime has been committed and invitation by the school district. The parent must be notified or the student will not be questioned. If there is questioning that occurs involving parent and student, the principal will be present. If a student is questioned, he or she is provided all the rights guaranteed by the Miranda Law. The committee deleted the portion of the code that deals with strip search, deciding not to include that under the search and interrogation process.
This code must be reviewed on an annual basis. These amendments to the district policy are open to public comment until June 18.