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Schools

Student conduct code to update

Harassing behavior and trendy toys like iPods and airsoft guns join the dress code debates.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008


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While exposed cleavage, bare midriffs and rampant cell phone use continue to plague Pinellas school principals, some new concerns have surfaced as district leaders hammer out a three-year revamp of the Code of Student Conduct.

Among the items they're asking School Board members to address this time around: bullying, sexual harassment and airsoft guns.

The board heard the first in a series of presentations Tuesday that will culminate this spring in the creation of a new handbook outlining the district's discipline policy. School operations director Ward Kennedy said the issues he's heard from school principals mirror those of school districts across the country.

"Some of them have to do with dress code, primarily skin exposure," Kennedy said. "And footwear. What is a thong, what is a flip-flop, what is a sandal?"

That particular topic was hotly debated in 2005 when the district crafted the current code. Also part of that discussion was the growing problem of electronic devices, including camera phones and videocameras.

Now, Kennedy said, some principals are suggesting a more relaxed approach to electronics use. Several board members agreed Tuesday, saying they favor an "acceptable use" policy for cell phones and iPods.

"We're behind the times if we think kids are not using their phones in the bathrooms," Janet Clark said. "They're using them all over the school. I can't see what the issue is in allowing kids to use their phones or their iPods in the courtyard during lunch."

Board chairwoman Nancy Bostock said she was "halfway to where Mrs. Clark is" on the issue - as long as the district continues to "take measures to preserve the academic integrity in the classroom."

Some principals already are taking advantage of a caveat in the district's policy that permits them to use discretion in determining when cell phones can be used. Students at Palm Harbor University High, for example, can use their phones before school and at lunch. A similar policy exists at Gibbs High.

Meanwhile, other principals, including those at Dixie Hollins and Northeast high schools, adhere strictly to the "turned-off-and-out-of-sight" policy. Regardless of how a principal interprets the guideline, board member Carol Cook said, what's important is whether children obey it.

"I would rather have a less restrictive policy that is enforced than a beautiful policy with people not following it," Cook said.

On the subject of sexual harassment, Kennedy said, some principals have said they want the code to contain more specific language. They haven't specified what they mean by that, he said.

Clark said she would like the code to specifically address student-on-student situations.

"If I were a kid reading this, I would think it was talking about how adults behave toward students," Clark said. "I think it needs to reference kids."

And on the subject of airsoft guns - spring, electric, or gas-powered air guns that fire small spherical plastic pellets - most board members said they were open to superintendent Clayton Wilcox's suggestion that they discuss a lesser punishment than school reassignment for children who merely handle a gun another child has brought to school.

"As I've gone back and looked at zero tolerance," board member Mary Brown said, "we're extending it out further than perhaps it was intended."

Still in the early stages, the code revamp has a long way to go, Kennedy said. Once parents, teachers, and members of the district's students rights and responsibilities committee have offered suggestions, the principals once again will weigh in. A code revision committee will submit recommendations to the superintendent's cabinet, then those recommendations will come to the board at a workshop.

Board members will listen to a first and second reading of the revised plan. If all goes well, Kennedy said, they will take a final vote in May.

 

.FAST FACTS

District policy

The district's current policy on electronic devices:

Middle and high school students can carry cell phones and other electronic devices, but they must be turned off and out of sight, unless an administrator gives permission to do something else. Elementary students are not allowed to have them at school, unless an administrator has given them written permission.



.fast facts

District policy

The district's current policy on electronic devices:

Middle and high school students can carry cell phones and other electronic devices, but they must be turned off and out of sight, unless an administrator gives permission to do something else. Elementary students are not allowed to have them at school, unless an administrator has given them written permission.

 

[Last modified January 16, 2008, 08:35:51]


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