Students would no longer be suspended for cutting classes, violating the dress code, loitering in the hall or using their cellphones in school, under proposed changes to the Buffalo Public Schools’ code of conduct.
The proposed changes would take effect in 2013-14 if the School Board approves them in June.
Parents, students, teachers and others are invited to share their thoughts on the changes at three “public reflection” sessions, the first of which will be at 6 p.m. today in McKinley High School, 1500 Elmwood Ave.
The changes come in response to community outcry over the last year regarding the more than 12,000 suspensions that are given annually for nonviolent incidents. It is the first time in more than a decade that the district’s code of conduct has been substantially rewritten, officials said.
“The code of conduct is shifting from being a punitive document to being a restorative set of principles,” said Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes, who coordinated efforts to revamp it. “The entire goal is to change the hearts of children so they don’t repeat acts of misconduct in the future.”
Keresztes worked with Jane S. Ogilvie of Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services over the past several months to revise the code of conduct.
They drew on input that was collected from eight focus groups that included teachers, students, parents, community members and others.
Out-of-school suspensions made headlines in Buffalo 2½ years ago, when Jawaan Daniels was fatally shot one afternoon shortly after he was suspended from Lafayette High School for wandering the halls.
Community activists have criticized district officials for taking too long to make changes to the discipline policy.
“I would agree, it has taken too long,” Keresztes said in an interview Monday. “I wish it would have been faster. There isn’t any one reason why it wasn’t. About a year ago, there was a commitment made to rewrite the code of conduct. Going forward, let’s not have things take so long.”
The 52-page draft code of conduct is designed to be easier to read and understand than the 30-page document that currently lays out expectations for student behavior and the likely consequences for misconduct.
Students and their families receive a copy of the code of conduct every year as part of the calendar that the district distributes.
The current code of conduct frequently cites various sections of relevant penal codes.
It is titled, quite simply, “Code of Conduct.”
The revised code of conduct talks about “parents as partners,” “promoting positive student behavior” and “tips for calming conflict,” among other things.
It is titled “Developing Safe and Supportive Schools: Standards for Community-Wide Conduct and Intervention Supports.”
The revised code of conduct describes different tiers of disciplinary responses, based on the severity of a student’s misbehavior.
The focus is on identifying the underlying issues that may have caused a student to misbehave, and providing supports to address those issues.
Unlike the current code, it includes nine pages of charts detailing what level of “response” can be used for each type of misconduct.
For example, “failure to follow directions” may result in detention, mediation, parental notification or several other such lower-level consequences.
But using profane or offensive language – especially if it happens repeatedly – may lead to a short-term suspension.
Keresztes said that while in-school suspensions remain an option for principals to use, the reality is that in the short term, the costs associated with implementing in-school suspensions remain a challenge.
“The focus on restorative rather than solely punitive responses to misconduct requires us to eventually invest in this approach [of using in-school suspensions],” he said. “In-school services can become a key tool to attain the objectives of a student-focused, excuse-free system of restoration rather than punishment.”
The changes to the code of conduct seem to be generally accepted by some of those who had been most vocal in their push for the district to reduce its number of suspensions for nonviolent offenses, although they say there remains more work to be done.
“We want to get students to remain in school. There’s data that proves that a zero-tolerance, out-of-school suspension policy does not work,” said Brian D. Trzeciak, education organizer for Citizen Action, the group that has championed changes to the district’s approach to discipline.
A copy of the proposed code of conduct is available at www.buffaloschools.org.
The district has enlisted the help of Citizen Action and Buffalo ReformED in holding the state-mandated public hearings regarding the proposed changes to the code of conduct. Instead of having the district host the hearings, Keresztes has asked those two groups to host them.
“Our group is pushing for a dialogue instead of a lecture,” Trzeciak said. “We really want an exchange of ideas.”
Citizen Action is hosting this evening’s hearing, along with another one at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 in Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave. Buffalo ReformED is hosting the third hearing at 6 p.m. Jan. 22 in Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave.
Anyone who wants to offer their thoughts but can’t attend one of the hearings can contact Trzeciak at 855-1522, Ext. 5, or btrzeciak@citizenac tionny.org, or Buffalo ReformED at 218-0108 or buffaloreformed@gmail .com.
People also can submit their input at http://citizenactionny.org/code ofconduct.
An advisory panel will review the input from the public and may propose further revisions to the code of conduct prior to the board’s vote in June, officials said.