Work that the Buffalo School District is doing in coordination with the community to update the student Code of Conduct offers a better chance to keep the focus on education.
According to a preliminary draft of the code, students would no longer be suspended for such offenses as cutting classes, violating the dress code, loitering in the hall or using their cellphones in school.
The long-overdue changes would take effect in 2013-14 if the School Board approves them in June.
The last major overhaul of the document was 20 years ago, and included boiler plate language from the state that stressed punitive action rather than keeping students in school while a restorative system worked to get to the bottom of problems.
The new code, “Developing Safe and Supportive Schools: Standards for Community-Wide Conduct and Intervention Supports,” takes a progressive approach in different tiers of disciplinary responses, based on the severity of a students’ misbehavior.
Some of the district’s strongest critics have been working with officials in crafting a better code.
The first two public reflection meetings to review the draft of the new Code of Conduct will be hosted this month and next by the Alliance for Quality Education and Citizen Action. Buffalo ReformED will host the third.
District officials are hoping that giving these organizations a platform by which they can share their goals and express their commitment will also allow community groups to be partners in the entire experience.
It’s a far different approach from the current code, one that elicited such an outcry from the community last year over the fact that more than 12,000 suspensions were being handed out annually for nonviolent offenses.
Out-of-school suspensions became an issue when Jawaan Daniels was fatally shot one afternoon while he was waiting for a bus shortly after he was suspended from Lafayette High School for wandering the halls.
Since then, despite its fiscal restraints the district has added social workers, counselors and psychologists in an effort to reduce suspensions. Shifting from a punitive document to a restorative set of principles should reduce suspensions while protecting both students and staff.
The focus in the new code is on identifying the underlying issues that may have caused a student to misbehave, and providing support to address those issues. It details the appropriate level of response for each type of misconduct. For example, “failure to follow directions” could result in detention, mediation, parental notification or several other such lower-level consequences.
A new code that uses a tiered approach based on the severity of a student’s misbehavior does not mean suspensions will be outlawed. Administrators will still have that tool available.
And violence, especially involving older students, will still be a law enforcement matter. Out-of-school suspensions, especially for younger students, may be meaningless or even counter-productive. District officials have said that restorative, rather than punitive, responses to misconduct require an investment in in-school suspension. And that may be the most logical answer in certain cases.
The new Code of Conduct will give the district, parents, students and community a playbook of rules everyone can live by.