Clarksville-Montgomery County school board started to modify its codes of conduct for the upcoming school year to adjust its assignment of points for misbehavior.
The board approved the changes at its May 12 meeting, following a months-long study from a committee headed by Mary Gist, director of middle schools.
Gist, who presented the committee’s findings at a virtual study session held last week, said the changes are necessary due to the disproportionate number of students with disabilities and African-American students reprimanded to the alternative school.
Director of Schools Millard House told board members the district will begin a process in the fall that will focus on finding out the root cause of behavior issues with students, which he said is key to analyzing a child’s behavior prior to creating a solution to improve it.
“If a child has been abused or is going through homelessness, they’re not necessarily going to care what comes out of their mouth,” House said. “It’s important for us to understand what those needs are before we’re punitive or tack on points.”
Adjusting point system
The district uses a point system to indicate the severity of an offense.
It is the only large school district in Tennessee that uses a point system and one of six states that uses it, according to Gist.
For decades, Gist said students would be considered to be remanded to the alternative school once they had accumulated 75 or more points.
“This has impacted our disproportionality issue more than anything else,” Gist said. “If a student collected 75 points for having a cellphone or [faced] dress code issues in the past, they could turn up at the alternative school for those minor issues.”
In the new method, the accumulation of points will indicate to school counselors and administrators that students may need different or additional support for interventions, she said.
“We no longer want to use points at all for determining when a student needs to go to alternative school,” Gist said.
How it would work
The committee suggested four changes, including the categorization of student offenses, a revised use of points for offenses, an emphasis on supports and interventions and changes in wording of the codes.
Gist indicated in past years, most schools have had no clear specifications for which offenses should be handled by the classroom teacher prior to writing an office referral.
The proposed changes for the upcoming codes of conduct would include the following:
• Category 1: Zero-point offenses – The offenses in category 1 would be handled by the classroom teacher with no points assigned to the student.
They include tardiness to class, the use of electronic devices such as ear buds or pods, the first two offenses of cellphone use, talking or sleeping in class, not being prepared for class, rude or impolite remarks to an adult and minor dress code offenses.
• Category 2: 10-point offenses – The offenses in category 2 could result in an office referral, possible detention, in-school suspension or referral to a school counselor.
Gist said it could include repetition of offenses in category 1 or conduct that is boisterous and disruptive, breaking the dress code, skipping of class, gambling, cheating or forgery and a verbal altercation with a peer.
The verbal dispute with another student would be reported to the parent with the student referred to a school counselor by the administrator.
“This is the step that has been missing,” Gist said. “When a student has a verbal altercation with a peer, there is something going on; there is a root cause. It’s something a school counselor could typically get to the bottom of and help.”
An administrator could also refer the student to the school’s support team; detention or three days in ISS could also be implemented, according to Gist.
It’s the support teams at each school that were used for academics that will shift into assisting behavior support.
“With the implementation of our [Response to Intervention] plans, support teams have waned in their usage,” Gist said. “Support teams truly can be used for behavior support, as well…to figure out root causes and develop support for our students.”
• Category 3: 20-point offenses – The offenses in category 3 apply to more serious office referrals, which result with in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension.
Offenses include repetition of infractions from category 2, possession of tobacco or vapes, threats, assault or fight, theft, gangs or displays of symbols, vandalism of less than $500 and leaving school without permission.
A parent would be notified of the offense, and the situation would be referred to a school counselor.
The offense could result in the student receiving up to five days of ISS or out-of-school suspension for three days.
• Category 4: 40-point offenses – The offenses in category 4 includes egregious acts that would likely result in the student remanded to the alternative school.
Offenses include repetition of infractions from category 3, arson, bomb threat, credible threat, vandalism of more than $500, weapons and dangerous instruments, non-lethal firearm and alcohol.
It’s the more serious offenses that Gist said alternative school is used more appropriately, instead of for students who use a cell phone or skip class.
Zero-tolerance offenses will remain unchanged as they are determined by state law.
Emphasizing support, intervention
Gist said 80% of behavior issues can be prevented, so teachers would receive training for preventative strategies.
House said there would be training involved when the new system is implemented, which will also explain why the newer method is taking place.
The plan calls for first notifying students of clear expectations.
When students are referred to counselors, and the structure remains unsuccessful, students will be sent to the support team and on to behavior specialists when needed.
Gist said the heart of the new codes of conduct methods is for teachers to spend time building relationships with the students from the first minute students walk through the classroom door.
District 4 board member Anne Murtha said she’s excited to see the new changes that will be implemented.
“It’s on the adults to stay cool,” Murtha said. “Because the kids are still kids. I just love it, and I really appreciate you doing this.”