UCF looks at student suspension polices

By JP Phillips, Correspondent, The Times

Prompted by a September 8th incident at a football home game that resulted in several students being suspended, the Unionville Chadds-Ford School Board had a lengthy discussion on Nov. 13 regarding changing the current policies related to student suspensions and student records.

According to a Birmingham township resident who spoke at the end of the meeting, approximately 20 students were disciplined based on hearsay, without any physical evidence.

A Pennsbury resident was very concerned that one bad decision during an otherwise model high school tenure could prevent a student from being accepted into a college of his/her choice.

Superintendent John Sanville informed that the Common Application, used by many colleges, does request suspension information from high schools.   The question of whether a student has been suspended is answered by ticking one of three boxes: yes, no, or not reported.  In order to not report, it must be part of the Student Record policy.  Current policy requires the district to check either yes or no.

Students can provide an explanation of the suspension on their application.

Board member John Murphy expressed concern that a single suspension could demoralize a student and keep him/her from doing his/her best.  He suggested that, if there are no additional incidents, the suspension could be expunged after a certain amount of time. Board Member Carolyn Daniels agreed, feeling that this would give a student incentive not to make another bad decision going forward. Board member Elise Anderson concurred, feeling that UCF is a learning environment, and we should allow students to learn from their mistakes.

Board member Jeff Hellrung generally agreed, feeling there ought to be more discretion in doling out appropriate consequences based on mitigating circumstances.  He also argued against a ten-day suspension, stating that five days is quite enough to get the message through.  Ten days means a lot of missed school work, which is difficult to make up.  He also felt that although the parent would be involved, the student should be the driver in applying for a rescission from the disciplinary record.

Board member Robert Sage was in general agreement with the conversation, but cautioned that allowing for rescindment could potentially diminish incentives for good behavior.  Some violations are so serious that they should not be rescinded.

Board Member Steve Simonson agreed with Sage.  A bad test grade affects a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA); so too should poor behavior affect a behavior record.

Board Members Tom Day and Gregg Lindner agreed that discretion is key, and surrounding circumstances should be taken into account.  Sage agreed, but noted that discretion could lead to unintended biases. Daniels cautioned that whatever is written into the policy should be clear-cut so consequences for specific behaviors are suitable to the offense and consistent across the district.

Sanville will take the thoughts shared by both the board and the public and rework existing policy numbers 218 (The suspension section in the Code of Student Conduct) and 216 (Student Records).  A draft will be presented to the board for further discussion in January.

Links to both policies can be found by searching the Policy section on the UCFSD website, linked here: http://www.boarddocs.com/pa/uncf/Board.nsf/Public?open&id=policies#

In other news, Assistant Superintendent John Nolen informed that the state recently postponed using Keystone exams as a graduation requirement until 2020.  However, in preparation to comply with the state’s plan announced several years ago, the district has used the Keystones as a graduation requirement for the past two years.  The administration is recommending adding a superintendent review component.  Should a student fail the exam, take a remedial cost, and fail again, the superintendent can use discretion in waiving the requirement.  Linder wondered if the board should change policy and not require the exam at this time since the state does not.

The board unanimously approved a resolution honoring the UCFSD support staff during this Support Staff Recognition week.

“It’s a small token of recognition of the work they do every day,” Sanville said.  The passed resolution will be posted on the district’s website.

As part of next week’s board meeting, votes are planned on curriculum changes, the extended school year to be held at Pocopson elementary, the placement of $2.2 million surplus into the Capital Account, and the revised teacher gift policy.

Next up:  School Board Meeting 7:30PM on Monday, November 20th at the district office, adjacent to the high school.   All board meetings are open to the public.  They are broadcast live (and archived) on the UCFSD web site.

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