OSWEGO — A committee of educators, parents and legal experts is updating the code of conduct for Oswego city schools, citing a need to update legal verbiage, clarification on terminology and the inclusion of new safety measures.
During Tuesday’s Oswego City School District (OCSD) Board of Education meeting, district Director of Student Services Robert Duffy unveiled multiple changes to the district-wide code of conduct to be reviewed by stakeholders and officials, in order to assert the code’s position as a “living document.”
The newly revised document is still pending board of education approval and has been delayed so board members can familiarize themselves with the recent additions to the currently in operation 2017 code of conduct, according to OCSD Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey.
“As such, (the living document) can be proactive and reactive,” said Duffy, who chairs the district’s recently formed code of conduct committee. “It is meant to change with the times and it is meant to change with our needs. In that vein, it is never really complete. There is always something we may want to add and to clarify.”
The district’s committee, which consists of parents, teachers and school principals and was formed at the end of 2018, consulted with upstate law firm Bond, Schoenek and King to make sure the district’s approach to discipline was legally current, according to Duffy.
“We focused this year on discipline because it seems to be an area where people kept saying we need to look at,” Duffy said in regards to the approach the multi-layered committee decided to take. “The changes (Bond, Schoenek and King) sent were not so much in the content, but in the verbiage used. They brought the words used up to standard and made them legal and permanent.”
Duffy said adding “a grade of zero” and the options of “behavioral interventional meetings” and “other interventions” with district officials provides information to stakeholders on what the district’s practices are.
“Let’s say someone has plagiarized something — we all know that is going to be a zero — but nowhere does it say that in the code of conduct,” he said. “These are the types of things we are looking for. What are our practices? What do we do now that is not there to inform people of what our practice is in specific situations?”
The new measures in the punitive section of the code are added to a list that includes warnings escalating from verbal to written, detention, suspensions from participation in extracurricular activities and transportation and permanent suspensions.
Flexibility when looking at cases of misconduct is also another goal the committee set out during their meetings, Duffy said.
“With ‘behavioral intervention meetings’ and ‘other interventions,’ you are going to see that throughout the code we massaged it so that it is more open,” he said. “Ideally the code is prescriptive; if student X does Y, Z happens to them? Ideally that should happen, but we have to look at who is the student? What is their age? What are their circumstances? Those things have to be considered.”
The terms “possession” was also expanded, according to Duffy.
“‘Possession’ now means use, possession or sale of drugs of other items of contraband including, but not limited to tobacco products (e-cigarettes, cartridges/pods, vapes) controlled substances (including, but not limited to, marijuana-related products, CBD products, aerosol chemicals and inhalants) or alcohol, weapons, and/or other items. Illegally using [or], possessing, or being under the influence of a controlled substance on school property or at a school function, including having such substance on a person, in a locker, vehicle, or other personal space or concealment of such, selling or distributing a controlled substance on school property,” an excerpt from the updated document states.
Duffy said the addition of more opaque language and the inclusion of “including, but not limited to” to the definition allows the district to include new terms into the code of conduct.
“We want to be as inclusive and current as possible,” he said, notin the addition of “vapes and pods” as a relatively new trend among harmful to student populations. “One of the revisions is the addition of vape and vaping. That has just happened in the last two years, once things like that come up we can include them relatively quickly.
“Red Flag Laws” were also included in the revised code of conduct, the provision could see the district take advantage of state legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February that allows law enforcement and school officials as well as family members to file a petition in court to seize weapons from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
“School administrators or designees have the right to file a petition or application for a temporary extreme risk protection order for any student who is enrolled at the school, or has been enrolled in the last six months, who they believe is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to themselves or others,” an excerpt from the revised code of conduct states.
Duffy said he expects the board to review the revisions and come to a decision on the approval of the new code of conduct before September, and encouraged residents who want to be a part of the committee to contact district officials.