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Flagler Schools’ Latest Student Code of Conduct: Zero Tolerance Endures, More Infractions Added, But Also More Vagueness

| July 17, 2014

The flagler school district will be punishing students who use social media during school hours this year, among other new actionable infractions added to the Student Code of Conduct. (Lee Morley)

The school district will be punishing students who use social media during school hours this year, among other new actionable infractions added to the Student Code of Conduct. (Lee Morley)

In a few ways, discipline in Flagler County schools will be a little gentler when the fall term begins on Aug. 18. In most ways, however, the ritual of annual changes to the Student Code of Conduct adds to the list of disciplinary measures and consequences. And as in previous years, there is no equivalent code of conduct for faculty and staff.

The Flagler County School Board approved the proposed changes to be advertised for 30 days, thus giving the public a chance to weigh in on the changes. (See the proposed code below, with changes highlighted in yellow.)

The administration’s submission of the proposed changes Tuesday was to be a chance for the board itself to weigh in and make changes, if it deemed them necessary. But the administration rebuffed the only substantial changes board members proposed—clearer definitions of “harassment” and a less categorical approach to first-time dress code offenders—though in neither case were the matters of serious concern to more than one board member.

One surprise: despite Jacob Oliva, an opponent of zero-tolerance policies, now holding the superintendent’s job, the district’s policy on the matter remains identical to what it’s been in the past.

“My ideas on zero tolerance? It doesn’t work,” Oliva said during his interview for the superintendent’s job in January, in one of his most forceful statements. “You can’t have policies in place where there is no investigation or no state of trying to determine the root cause of trying to determine why somebody did what they did. Kids make mistakes. Employees make mistakes. We have adults who make mistakes all the time.” Zero tolerance, he said, is “probably an antiquated practice” that must change.

But it is still in place, word for word, and was not even a subject of discussion by either Oliva or board members at the workshop Tuesday.

Nevertheless, the code is being softened regarding out of school suspensions. Students will have the ability to reduce their suspension days or, when they’re suspended for one day, eliminate that suspension altogether, if they perform one of a series of options such as fulfilling community service time, attending parent-student seminar night, attending a fire prevention seminar or a tobacco seminar: it’ll be similar to drivers avoiding points on their license by attending a defensive driving course.

That, however, is the only new, gentler part of the code. Beyond that, the proposed changes add to infractions and definitions. Under Level I, for example—“minor acts of misconduct that interfere with the orderly operation of the classroom”—which include dress code violations, not wearing an ID, misconduct or a student hanging out where he or she is not supposed to, the offense of “Failure to Return Daily Use Computer” was added. That’s a reflection of the district’s new policy of giving every high school student (and soon, every student) a laptop. Some use it only at school. That’s the “daily use” computer. They’re supposed to return it at the end of the day. Not showing up to an assigned duty is also a Level I offense, as will be the accumulation of four minor classroom infractions.

Level I punishments fill a long list, from “time out” to confiscations to parent conferences to detention of all sorts. The Level I punishment list is unchanged.

Under Level II infractions, which can trigger criminal proceedings, a separate entry was added under bullying (as opposed to the existing “cyber bullying” category). It defines bullying as “Any intentional/malicious acts repeated with no provocation over time by a student o a group of students directed against another student(s) with the intent to ridicule, humiliate or intimidate.” But the definition goes on to include a potentially controversial qualification: “To be defined as bullying, the behavior must be repeated, show imbalance of power, and be malicious in intent.” Both the latter two clauses open a window of subjectivity so broadly that, absent further clarification or definition of the terms used, raise the threshold of provable bullying significantly.

A similarly vague Level II offense was added, termed “Disruption (level 2),” and defined as: “Behavior which disrupts the educational process but is not criminal or a safety concern.”

Making a Facebook status update or sending out a Tweet is an offense equivalent to misconduct, bullying and cheating.

Additional new infractions under Level II include not showing up for lunch detention or in-school detention, using “profane language” (the term is not defined beyond “language, gestures, objects, or pictures which are inappropriate for the school setting or which tend to disrupt the orderly school environment” or school activities), skipping  school, and “general use of social media on campus without malicious intent.” In other words, making a Facebook status update, sending out a Tweet, or pinning an image on Pinetrest is an offense equivalent to misconduct, bullying and cheating: those Level II offenses can result in out-of-school suspension of one to five days, mediation, community service and other consequences.

Level III offenses can lead to expulsion, alternative-school assignments, five to 10 days’ suspension and other forms of intervention, including legal proceedings. To those were added “any use of profanity directed” at staff.

“There is a distinct difference between a student who’s using vulgarity on campus and a student who is having profane language towards a teacher,” Tim King, the administrator who presented the proposed changes to the school board Tuesday as a representative of the Student Services Department.

The possession of ammunition, three or more referrals in a five-day period, the use of ethnic slurs, and using social media “with malicious intent” are also now Level III offenses. “The old code ethnic racial slurs, we changed that to slurs of federally protected groups because it gave us the parameters to be able to protect more students and adults under that code,” King said.

Under Level IV offenses, which can be punished through any means listed under previous levels, but also include outright expulsion, was were added “harassment,” “hazing,” “physical attack” and “sexual assault.” The harassment and sexual assault entries are particularly vague, or lacking in qualification. School board member Colleen Conklin seized on the sexual harassment definition.

“I am concerned that this could lead to interpretation,” Conklin said. “You could put 10 people in a room and they might interpret this very differently.”

King said it was not the district’s definition, but the state Department of Education’s. “They tell us this is how we define this behavior or how we define this infraction,” King said, noting that in any case legislative changes will require local districts to develop separate harassment policies this year. That will come to the board soon.

The details of the proposed changes produced little additional discussion among board members. What did provoke the most extensive discussion on the matter was the segment about the dress code—which is entirely unchanged.

“The consensus that we gather is people either love it or they hate it,” King said. “As you all are aware, there is no middle ground. As a district we saw an increase in dress code referrals.” Parents and the disciplinary committee’s most persistent complaint is that when a student is referred to administrative offices in secondary schools over a dress code violation, the referral ends up devouring 45 minutes of the student’s time—an entire class period.

That bothers Andy Dance, the school board chairman. “Personally I’ve always been at odds with the first offense,” he said. “First offense is more of a warning instead of the mandatory, out of school, out of class until you get it fixed.”

“It’s a struggle. The thing about the dress code,” Katrina Townsend, the director of student services, said, “is that the kids know the code, and the parents do too, and all of the phone calls that I do, and especially the ones in the summer, I remind them so they’re shopping for the dress code. And speaking as a parent whose kid chose to violate the dress code this year at FPC, one of the things she said to me was that the time she got caught was the first time she was ever checked, but it wasn’t the first time that she hadn’t worn a collared shirt. This is my kind, my 16 year old. And so it wasn’t that she didn’t know, and the kids, it’s not that they didn’t know, it’s that they’re kids, same as we did when we were kids, you see how far you can go before you get busted and caught.”

Townsend sympathized with Dance, and said that changes will be made to the code—but not this year. It’s not clear why.

“Is it really a big deal to change it at this point as far as the first offense?” board member John Fischer asked.

“No, because we’re just putting this out for advertisement,” Sue Dickinson said: that’s the point of advertising proposed changes (or non-changes) to the student code, or to any policy: it’s not just to do it because the law says the board must, but to give the public, like the board, a chance to influence the code, if not change it. It’s then the administration’s responsibility to incorporate any such feasible and reasonable changes—as long as the board agrees—and, if necessary, re-advertise the policy before adoption. More often than not, however, the process of advertising policy changes for 30 days has taken on a different meaning: by the time the board advertises the policy, it’s in its virtual final form, and, with some exceptions, any changes are rare, or resisted.

Townsend explained: “If students are allowed to continue their involvement in their general activity while violating whatever that policy is, and I’ll just change it to something else, if they’re allowed to be in class while they’re cursing at the teacher, they’re going to continue to curse at the teacher because they’re not removed from that environment.” But Townsend’s analogy was flawed: a dress code violation is a minor, Level I offense that often is informally dealt with through warnings. Cussing at a teacher is a very serious Level III offense that few teachers would tolerate without immediate consequences.

“But,” Townsend said, noting that students are given broad latitude to deal with the issue—as when faculty or administrators make alternative but appropriate clothing available to them–“I do think you’re going to see more thought on it.”

2015 Flagler Schools Student Code of Conduct (Draft)

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18 Responses for “Flagler Schools’ Latest Student Code of Conduct: Zero Tolerance Endures, More Infractions Added, But Also More Vagueness”

  1. Anne says:

    —“minor acts of misconduct that interfere with the orderly operation of the classroom”—which include dress code violations, not wearing an ID, misconduct or a student hanging out where he or she is not supposed to, the offense of “Failure to Return Daily Use Computer” …..WOW, Flagler. Thank you for bringing us all into a Communist era. Trust me, I know. I lived it. Sad.

  2. John Smallberries says:

    Aaaand people wonder why we homeschool.

  3. PCer says:

    Social media is part of the future for these kids and how they will communicate not only with friends and family, but with colleagues and clients. Why is it being made into a punishable offense? Why aren’t the schools embracing it and using it to teach students how to use it to their advantage?

  4. Nancy N. says:

    The only thing change that needs to be made to the uniform code is to eliminate it.

    After having been living with it for awhile now I can say unequivocally that we were lied to about it saving money and hassle. It has cost me a fortune that I otherwise wouldn’t have had to spend (even with buying shirts at Walmart) and has been a major hassle in both shopping and laundry. I can say absolutely that the uniform code has been a major pain and expense in our house.

    But apparently the board is too busy making Pinterest a punishable offense to fix this mess. Unbelievable.

  5. Mike says:

    If you vote to return any of these incompetent members back to the FCSB you will get what you deserve, 4 more years. of poor job performance. Andy Dance and his band of misfits may be the worst school board in the history of Flagler County; they are in it for the paycheck, remove the salary and see who runs.

  6. Justin Kase says:

    What a joke! This folks is all smoke and mirrors! Hope you all have that warm and fuzzy feeling? When are you people going to stand up for your principles and remove all this deadwood from these positions? You should see all that has been swept under the carpet this past year or two! The admin just hides in their offices behind closed doors when you go there personally to rectify a problem! Again, this is a joke!
    I would recommend home schooling!!!

  7. Rob says:

    Months back when the school board bumbled its way through a proposed tax increase that proved not to be needed there were many cries to replace these incompetents. Not to mention the school dress code mandated on students in a city with low incomes and one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. And last, a council member whose behavior was questionable in the face of what was proved to be a criminal act involving vehicular homicide.

    Now the elections are upon us, lets see how much changing and replacement comes to pass.
    I hope the voters’ memories serve them well.

  8. Joe Joe says:

    Kids go to school to learn, not play with their phones and social media. Most of you probably attended school when none of this was an issue to begin with. Do I agree with all the dress code stuff, no, just some of it. But phones and social media is becoming an issue in school and I am sure teachers are having a hard time with it disrupting classes.

    • PCer says:

      Rather than fighing social media, the school should embrace it. Use it to enhance the curriculum. Students relate to it and love using it. Use that to get them to love learning along with social media. Additionally, many of them will be using social media in their chosen careers. Better to know how to use it now then to have make mistakes that could cost them their job later.

    • Nancy N. says:

      I wish the school district would decide what their mission is and make their rules consistent with it.

      We were sold the uniforms on the basis of “it is necessary because we have to teach the kids how to dress for work.” (Because you know, that’s a lesson that needs to be taught to 8 year olds?)

      But when given a chance to teach the kids how to responsibly manage the distraction of electronic devices in their work day – a lesson they need to learn FAR more than how to put on the same collared shirt every day – the school district says “not our problem” and just bans it all.

      Are they or are they not preparing kids for work? Or are they just hauling it out as an excuse to hide behind when they want to do something that needs selling?

  9. Jim R. says:

    We must get these children to be obedient and get used to being p-tested, watched 24 hrs a day ,punished for the slightest infraction of the RULES and in any other way necessary to get them accustomed to living in the coming police state. Big brother is watching and they better obey .

  10. Home School says:

    RUN children RUN….There’s DANGER in your schools, and its coming from the school board !

  11. Florida James says:

    You have to be kidding – a 39 page manual. Who is even going to read it?! This is the age of FB, texting, and twitter (140 characters). These students and their parents are not lawyers. Okay, CYA and print the full manual. But at least do a nutshell that is usable by the kids and their parents. As usual, the administration is out of touch with reality. Ask any teacher anywhere in the USA and it is the administration that is most annoying to them and to students for just this reason.
    Get real.

  12. Binkey says:

    Everyone should read the code of conduct. God forbid we have policies in place for how students behave. Is one needed for staff? I would say yes, but that would be staff contracts. As for Being vague, I imagine it is purposeful to cover incidents no one would dream of happening I the school (like a pet snake wrapped around a body coming for a school surprise visit).
    Social media is used in school for school purposes using educational sites.

    39 pages is not a lot of reading. It’s boring reading, but it is meant to be a guideline. Here’s something that a lot of parents should know but don’t because they don’t take the half hour to read the Code of Conduct – parents do not have the right to view bus videos. I know a lot of parents who DEMAND to see and it’s not going to happen.

  13. A.S.F. says:

    I wish people would stop trying to make the problems we are experiencing in our area in regards to our kids as general as “the schools are not doing enough to___(fill in the blank.) We need more positive programs and activities to get our kids involved in, activities that their parents can and SHOULD take part in. We also need more and better counseling and drug/alcohol treatment services and a better system to “flag” and evaluate those who may need them, at an earlier stage–Before they end up being written up in news forums like “Flagerlive” and the “Palm Coast Observer.” A rule book doesn’t mean that much to kids who already feel alienated from the mainstream. And it might not mean too much to some of their parents either.

  14. Let's see now says:

    How about putting in a dress code for the teachers/administration? Will the teachers/admin be punished for accessing social media during school hours? How about the School Board? will YOU be punished? You want success, lead by example and perhaps you will get success and not angry parents.

    • Hammond says:

      Well said! Not to mention that they need to lead by example in not using profanity as well. Maybe if the teachers had after achool detentions, they could use their time wisely, such as planning for their classes. Then they could do away with those rediculous teacher planning days!

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