JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the third year in a row, changes to the code of conduct for students in Duval County Public Schools were on the agenda before school starts in August.
The school board approved revisions to the student codes concerning violence and discipline.
The biggest bone of contention for board members through the evening was language surrounding students defending themselves from an attack at school.
While school police said fighting off an attacker is a legal response to violence, board members said they want to ensure they never condone violence in any way.
The board is trying to prevent fights like one that happened in April at Lee High School, where a student was punched in the back of the head and wrestled to the ground and a school resource officer had to use a billy club to break up the fight.
One teen was suspended after the fight, but that discipline was changed after video of the fight surfaced showing he was just walking down the hall when another student punched him.
A Westside mother said it started after threats were made against her daughter on social media.
The biggest topic concerning the code of conduct seemed to be consequences. District leadership said it's important to review the rules every year and never assume you've arrived at perfection.
Changes discussed Tuesday included a points system similar to demerits for students.
Those points accumulate to determine the path and placement of discipline.
Students won't get a copy of the lengthy Duval County student code of conduct this year. But they can view it online and are expected to follow the updated changes.
One of the approved changes to the code of conduct says the following for students in secondary schools:
- The Mattie V. Rutherford Alternative Education Center will be working with 4th through 9th grade students with minor, chronic infractions of the code.
- Grand Park Alternative Educational Center will serve 6th thru 12th grade students that exhibit a pattern of continuous and aggressive behaviors.
- When a student in grades 6 through 12 incurs a third code infraction from the following group, he/she is automatically assigned to Grand Park Alternative Educational Center
- Those behaviors include fighting a student and/or school employee at school or on a school bus.
Parents have mixed opinions about the proposal.
"I think it's a good idea to get them out of the school," parent Chris Tyndal said. "They're obviously a bad apple."
"The alternative school is what, a school where a bunch of kids have been sent there because of behavior problems?" parent Jennette Akins said. "A school driven by behavior is not the answer."
Students are also assigned to Grand Park if they obtain 12 points based on this rubric:
- Intentional threat against a student or employee: 3 points
- Fighting or initiating a fight: 3 points
- Verbal sexual harassment: 2 points
- Physical sexual harassment: 3 points
- Possession of alcohol: 2 points
- Possession of drugs: 2 points
Meanwhile, some parents believe there are better options for students than alternative school.
"I think the big issue is parents, getting parents involved," Akins said.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said that this was a way to keep students in a learning environment if possible.
"From the baseline year, we've seen a 9,600 percent increase in restorative justice practices and a 622 percent increase in the use of behavioral contracts. Nationally, what's happening throughout country, is an emphasis on restorative justice and behavioral contracts rather than removing the student from the learning environment," Vitti said.