A crackdown on student tardiness at has won teacher approval but raised questions about what constitutes appropriate disciplinary action.
Hallway sweeps to round up students who are supposed to be elsewhere are among the first steps the school district has taken to improve the climate at the school in the wake of a critical in December. Teachers have identified tardiness and attendance as their top behavioral concern, Superintendent of Schools James Willis told the Board of Education last night.
“The teachers like it,” Willis said of the crackdown. “They can’t teach if the kids aren’t there or if they disrupt class by coming in late. The kids need to be there on time.” He added that students are allowed a couple of minutes of leeway after the bell rings before an unannounced sweep begins.
Board members and a teacher questioned whether imposition of out-of-school suspension was appropriate after two incidents of tardiness since the hallway crackdown began in January. They noted that the district’s Code of Conduct (last updated in August) is more lenient, listing “Class Cutting/Multiple Lateness 2 cuts or 4 tardies” as a first-offense infraction warranting “Possible parent notification and detention – minimum 1 day, Mandated assignments.”
“Punishment must be proportionate and appropriate,” board member Marcela Bobe said, noting that out-of-school suspension is not included in the code as an early disciplinary measure.
“We need to follow the code,” board member Douglas Glickert said, adding that out-of-school suspension was “a bit much” after two incidents of tardiness.
“Or revisit the code,” said board Vice President Fran Feuerman, suggesting that allowing “4 tardies” as a first offense might be too lenient.
eacher Michelle Torres suggested during the hearing of citizens that the crackdown target habitual offenders, not occasional lateness. “Suspension is serious, something major,” she said, urging the district to follow the progressive discipline, including parental notification and detention, in the Code of Conduct. She questioned whether suspension for tardiness would become part of a student’s permanent record; “I fear for innocent kids,” she said.
Board President Joseph Urbanowicz said faculty members had indicated that tardiness was “a serious thing” but suggested investigating alternatives to suspension.
Several board members opposed listing such suspensions on students’ permanent records. Willis agreed, saying, “We don’t want relatively minor stuff on the permanent record,” adding that he would gather additional information about the crackdown and present it to the board.
In an effort to publicize and explain the crackdown on unacceptable behavior, Willis has been meeting regularly with teachers and small groups of students. He also spoke with each assembled class at the high school, during which he pointed out such unacceptable behavior as a girl texting while he was speaking and a boy asleep in the front row.
In related matters:
- Regarding use of cell phones and other electronic devices in classrooms, “We’re all over the lot,” Willis said, noting that use of such devices can range from online research to personal texting. The district plans to survey the high school regarding use, abuse, benefits and problems and revisit the issue at the end of the school year. Bobe suggested considering the impact on students whose devices do not have online capability or who have no devices.
- Joseph Mosey, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the district is developing a few academic study halls (as opposed to traditional unstructured study halls) for this school year and plans to develop more for next year.
- Willis said the district must make sure that classroom instruction is compelling and engaging, which will help reduce tardiness and absence issues. He acknowledged that this goal is not always met.