School directors and administrators are standing firm on the discipline procedures in place for the Indiana Area School District.
In fact, the school board bolstered the procedures this week, although on a divided vote following some debate at the board meeting.
The discipline guidelines, including a so-called “zero tolerance” stance on drugs and alcohol, until now has annually been published in the student handbook, but the board adopted a formal suspension and expulsion policy with no changes.
The discipline guide came under fire in the spring after several Indiana Area Senior High School students received summary citations for underage drinking while attending a state Key Club conference in Hershey.
Students and community residents protested through social media what they called the harsh punishment — sanctions including suspension and expulsion — that was imposed on the students under the published guidelines.
District officials held to privacy guidelines and neither acknowledged the offenses nor revealed the punishment handed down, except for acknowledging a lawsuit filed by the parents of one student in a bid to have the punishment overturned.
“On the advice of our school psychologist, the faculty and the ad hoc committee, the district will not modify our zero tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs as outlined in the student handbook,” board President Thomas Harley announced at the outset of the meeting Monday. “The lawsuit that was filed has been resolved without a hearing; hence the court has taken no action that would affect the IASD handbook or the disciplinary policies of this district.”
In addition to leaving the student handbook intact, the board voted 7-2 to adopt Policy 233 on suspension and expulsion.
Harley and board members Alison Billon, Hilliary Creely, David Ferguson, Robert Gongaware, Brian Petersen and Walter Schroth approved it. Diana Paccapaniccia and Rob Werner, the chairman of the personnel and policy committee, voted no.
Werner objected to a provision that allows students accused of the most serious offenses to have the choice of a meeting with the district superintendent or a hearing before the full school board. The adjudication option was implemented a few years ago.
“My opinion is that an action as serious as expulsion should engage the board,” Werner said.
Schroth recommended keeping the option.
“It is humiliating to a student to go through that before the board,” Schroth said. “Kids do dumb things sometimes ... and if an option allows the administration to handle it low key, I’m all for it.”
District Superintendent Dale Kirsch said the option to settle a disciplinary matter in a meeting with the student, parents and an administrator is more efficient.
“Many times the students admit their guilt,” Kirsch said. “The discipline can be decided without the expense of two attorneys at a board hearing. … When it is so clear, it doesn’t make sense to me to do that.”
In other business, the board:
• Approved Policy 204 on attendance on a vote of 8 to 1.
Paccapaniccia voted against it, objecting to a provision that considers tardiness as an unexcused absence.
• Approved unanimously a policy regulating the use of procurement cards for purchases by district administrators.
• Approved a series of revisions to the curriculum including math for kindergarten through 12th grade, music for K to 12, some language arts courses, the addition of a health and physical education unit and the senior high digital media production unit. The vote was 8 to 1, with Paccapaniccia opposed.
• Approved proposed revisions to the student Attendance, Behavioral Guidelines and Discipline Policy Handbook on a vote of 8 to 1.
Paccapaniccia voted no after vigorously lobbying for a more liberal guideline on the time allowed for students to make up assignments after extended absences.
The policy had required all students to turn in assignments on the day they return to school, regardless of the reason for absence. It has been changed to allow students up to three school days to complete work they missed for authorized absences, such as field trips, but still requires students to immediately submit homework if they had been suspended from school.
Although the policy allows a student and teacher to negotiate the time allowed for making up work, Paccapaniccia said a student should be guaranteed a window of opportunity equal to the number of days of the absence.