UHS bathroom closures questioned; Knier new Patton Ass’t, Principal

By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, The Times

New Patton Asst. Principal Jessica Knier with Principal Dissinger Monday night.

POCOPSON — A main point of discussion during the May 21st meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board at Pocopson Elementary returned to the suspension policy after a recent incident where, according to residents, a student was suspended for vandalism after trying to enter a locked bathroom.

According to a community member, just three high school bathrooms were open last week for the approximately 1,300 students.   In order to use the facilities, students had to sign in and out.

Superintendent John Sanville spoke in general terms regarding the problems the high school had recently with vandalism in the school’s bathrooms.

“We have had a rash of vandalism in our bathrooms of varying degrees, from the stuffing of toilets to cause flooding, to ripping toilets out of the ground, to ripping sinks from the wall, to ripping door handles off of a locked bathroom door,” he said. “We have closed bathrooms that have been rendered unusable because of those things. We are well within code, but certainly, bathrooms that have been rendered unusable have been locked.”

According to a couple of residents who spoke, the lack of bathrooms and the way it was communicated to the students was emblematic of a general lack of respect that exists between school administrators and students.  When one student tried to enter a locked bathroom and broke the handle (not specifically stated but implied by the comments), he was suspended for vandalism without, the residents felt, due process.  When students tried to discuss the matter with high school administration on May 21st, a resident claimed, they would not be seen; the students were locked out of the administration offices, and security was called to escort them away from the area.

Sanville generally defended how suspensions are currently rendered.  “I will tell you that from a due process perspective, from a fairness perspective, from a making-sure-we-get-it right perspective, all avenues are explored.  It’s not done willy-nilly, it’s not done with malice, it’s not done with an ‘I got you’ mentality.”

Board Member Gregg Lindner stated to Sanville, “I just find that there’s a difference maybe of our interpretation of due process, and what that means in different situations.  And I think that’s where there’s my disconnect.”

“Even good kids make mistakes.   There should be consequences for mistakes and then the opportunity to learn from them,” Sanville continued.  “If we can make our policy better so that students that make mistakes can learn from them, I’m all for that.  And certainly, it’s a Board goal that’s been brought from Administration to the Board that suggests we revise as we examine our policy 218 which is our Student Code of Conduct, and that’s certainly before the Board to consider.”

He clarified that “Quite frankly, even though we talk about it quite a bit, very, very few students are suspended.  I think the percentage is less than a percent of the student body gets suspended.  So, it’s not something that happens very often.”

Board president Jeff Hellrung reminded the public that revising the disciplinary code has been a three-part plan.  Part one was to offer a way for first-offenders without any other disciplinary issues to apply for a one-time rescission of a suspension from the student record, approved last month.  Part two was to update the student handbook so it matches school policy, which was up for first reading with potential adoption in June.  The third part is to review the offenses and their punishments to ensure they are appropriate, which the Administration committed researching and presenting early next year.

Board Members urged the Administration to complete this review as soon as possible so the Board can amend current policy.

In personnel news, the Board approved Jessica Knier to become the new Assistant Principal at Patton Middle School.  Patton Para-professional Clare Geleta is retiring after 16 years.  And this was Student Board Representative Gavin Brezki’s last meeting before he graduates and heads off to St. Joseph’s University this fall.

Additionally, Hellrung read a prepared statement regarding a meeting he, Sanville, and Lindner had with representatives of the Save the Indian Coalition, found here.

The Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education approved a contract to demolish the old barn on Dow Run.

And a contract to tear down the dilapidated barn located on Doe Run Road near Route 82 was approved. Previously, it had been hoped that the barn could be rehabbed or rebuilt to serve as a possible community use building, but the structural damage to the old structure proved to be to great.

After the meeting at The Times’ request, the Administration sent this statement on the suspension issue.

“As a school district, we need to be mindful to keep any specific case of student discipline confidential.  That said, it is true that at UHS, we have recently seen a troubling rash of vandalism of varying degrees in our bathrooms, from stuffing toilets to cause flooding to ripping off a door handle, and breaking fixtures such as toilets, sinks, pipes and soap dispensers from the floors and walls. Students have been suspended for vandalism, per school board policy.  We regret that the actions of a few are impacting our wide majority of respectful students and are working to prevent further incidents.”

Also, here is a letter shared with students and forwarded to parents following last week’s bathroom vandalism.

Next Up:  Curriculum/Educational Technology Meeting on Monday, June 11th at 4:30, and then the Work Session at 7:30.  Both meetings take place in room 14 at the District Office, adjacent to the High School.

All board meetings are open to the public.  They are broadcasted live (and archived) on the UCFSD web site.

Board documents:  http://www.boarddocs.com/pa/uncf/Board.nsf/public

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