SRC to consider kinder, gentler code of student conduct

Posted: August 17, 2012

This story has been updated.

THE YOUNG fifth-grader wanted to show his friend the plastic pellet gun he brought into school earlier this year.

The principal, who knew the student had no history of violent outbreaks or suspensions, had no choice but to follow the district's Code of Student Conduct and call the police. Four days' suspension.

Now it appears a charter school wants to keep him out because of his record, said David Lapp, staff attorney with the Education Law Center.

Under a revised code that will be up for a vote at Thursday's School Reform Commission meeting, the youngster probably wouldn't have had to endure what he did. The new code, which was discussed during this week's school-safety summit for principals, would reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions for minor offenses and would prohibit such punishment for cellphone violations, dress-code infractions and truancy.

The fifth-grader's case and others like it need "a response, but not to the level of disrupting their educational process," Lapp said.

The zero-tolerance policies prevalent in the district's conduct code have led to shattered lives, say student advocates, many of whom give credit to the district for reversing course.

"We're impressed in the shift from what we had under [former superintendent] Dr. Ackerman and the zero-tolerance policy," said Lapp, who offered ideas to the committee charged with the revision, headed by SRC member Lorene Cary. "That really didn't help."

Youth United for Change member Michael Forster, 18, called the new code "a step in the right direction," but said he believes the district has more to do.

He and other students want the district to implement conflict-resolution for students and teachers in each school community. He also said the district needs to address racial disparity in punishment because, he believes, black and white students are treated unequally.

Student groups such as Youth United and the Philadelphia Student Union will be on hand at the SRC meeting to urge the commissioners to pass the reworked code.

The Blue Ribbon Commission, appointed after the Inquirer documented violence in district schools, recommended earlier this year that the code be revised to reduce out-of-school suspensions.


Contact Regina Medina at 215-854-5985 or medinar@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaMedina.

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