Feedback from parents and teachers from an April town hall meeting on school discipline has been cataloged, and Clarke County School District board members and administrators are working on policy changes with the goal of having them in place for the start of the next school year.
“First, there is an expressed concern that discipline policies are applied inconsistently across the Clarke County School District,” board President Charles Worthy wrote in an introduction to the report, which is available here. “Secondly, we saw a repeated suggestion that teachers would like more support and training on management of discipline. Finally, citizens expressed a desire for an explanation and better understanding of the respective roles of the superintendent and the board of education.”
Elementary and middle schools “do not punish kids for being tardy” because parents are responsible for getting them to school on time, Superintendent Philip Lanoue told the school board’s policy committee last week. Students with excessive tardies may be referred to a social worker, he said.
At the high-school level, from a student’s point of view, “it makes more sense to skip altogether than to show up tardy,” board member Sarah Ellis said. The Code of Student Conduct doesn’t outline specific punishments for skipping class, and some administrators apparently have been lax in that regard. It could also be beneficial to rewrite the code in plain language, rather than legalese, to make it easier for students and parents to understand, board member Linda Davis suggested.
That most infractions in the code don’t carry specific penalties is something that bothers many parents and teachers. The district used to have such a matrix—it was added in response to black parents’ complaints about harsher punishments—but Lanoue got rid of it, Hardaway explained to the policy committee. A racial discrepancy still persists: Out of 285 disciplinary hearings last year, 90 percent involved African American students, Hardaway said.
Worthy (formerly the principal at Cedar Shoals) cautioned against tying principals’ hands and said they should have the ability to “enhance” district policy. “You have two high schools here, and I’m telling you they’re going to have different problems,” he said.
One issue that surfaced in the wake of a student’s sexual assault at Cedar Shoals earlier this year, though, was the almost total lack of discipline at the Eastside school compared to Clarke Central. Interim principal Derrick Maxwell has since announced that he’s cracking down on attendance, but according to state Department of Education statistics compiled by Karen Sweeney Gerow, a former CCSD teacher who’s been critical of the district, Central students were several times more likely to be suspended than Cedar students during the 2014–2015 school year. There were 621 attendance-related disciplinary actions at Central, compared to just 39 at Cedar. Maybe Jaguars are that much better behaved—or maybe someone was looking the other way to boost the school’s all-important College and Career Readiness Index score.
But the policy committee didn’t talk about that.