A final component is falling into place to launch the new student code of conduct for the Buffalo Public Schools that many parents hope will further decrease student suspensions and increase graduation rates.
Training is moving forward after the approval of a new policy in April that will no longer suspend students for disciplinary problems such as truancy, cheating, cutting class, running in the halls, and dress code violations.
In these and many other cases, punishment is taking a back seat to intervention strategies such as making changes in seating, writing letters of apology, notifying parents, mentoring by peers, and conflict resolution.
The district will be starting three levels of training – for principals, student support staff and parent leaders – to ensure proper understanding and implementation of the policy, Will Keresztes, associate superintendent for student support, said at Tuesday’s Educational Support Services committee meeting.
A DVD and “webinar” are being produced for teachers, and an eight-page, parent-friendly version of the new policy is also under development, he said.
“We expect we’ll be able to get 75 percent of the workforce trained in that over the summer,” Keresztes said.
This policy represents the first time in more than a decade that the district’s code of conduct has been substantially rewritten as part of a continuing effort to keep administrators from suspending students for minor infractions.
“It’s more constructive than punitive,” said Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.
Community outrage spiked three years ago when Jawaan Daniels was fatally shot one afternoon shortly after he was suspended from Lafayette High School for wandering the halls.
Beginning in the next school year, instead of a 30-page “Code of Conduct” that primarily outlines a long list of prohibited behavior and another long list of penalties, there will be a new 70-page “Standards for Community-wide Conduct and Intervention Supports” that devotes pages to prevention and intervention strategies to encourage students to change their behavior.
“So many of the incidents that involve misconduct are not violent,” Keresztes said. “They are just disagreements that escalate. We want to set them up in an environment where they can resolve those problems themselves.”
In 2009-10, the district responded to community pressure by assigning “support teams” to every building – a psychologist, social worker and coordinator and guidance counselor. In subsequent years, the board decided on a model of parent conferences rather than suspensions for minor offenses.
Between the two changes, Keresztes said, short-term suspensions have steadily fallen, from 12,369 in March 2009-10 to 7,480 as of this past March, a decline of nearly 40 percent.
“I want to keep that trend going,” Keresztes said of the new policy.
The interventions and consequences are categorized on four levels in the new code of conduct – from Level 1, the mildest, including responses such as written apology, verbal correction, seat change and parent conference; to Level 4, which includes long-term suspensions and expulsions.
Some offenses, such as bus disruptions, lying to school staff and threats against school personnel, can result in district responses that run the full range of levels, depending on the severity of the offense and the age of the offender.
Violent offenses and weapons possession would still yield serious consequences under the new policy, Keresztes said.
“It still does what a code of conduct must do,” he said.