As the Board has arrived at the third and final reading of the Student Code of Conduct, it is all too appropriate that USEP speak to the Importance of this document in guiding not only our student’s behavior but also in directing school board employees in the management of student behavior.
Both the Instructional Master Contract (Article VII, Section U) and the SRP Master Contract (Article VII, Section N) direct employees to seek guidelines for the use of Reasonable Force in the Student Code of Conduct. The Student Code of Conduct states:
The safety and welfare of the students is of utmost importance. In today’s society, it has become necessary to use a range of conduct management efforts to control student behavior. These efforts include the use of reasonable force. Florida Statutes 1006.11 and 1012.75 allow such force to be used by school personnel in maintaining a safe and secure learning environment. While use of reasonable physical force may be needed, that force may not be excessive, cruel or unusual in nature, and alternatives to the use of such force should be attempted, time permitting. Any use of reasonable physical force must cease upon the restoration of a safe and orderly environment.
Use of reasonable force is permitted to protect students from:
• Conditions harmful to learning.
• Conditions harmful to students’ mental health.
• Conditions harmful to students’ physical health.
• Conditions harmful to safety.
On April 27th, a spokesperson for the District made a statement to the press that directly contradicts the expectations spelled out in the Student Code of Conduct, as well as District Bylaws & Policies and Florida Statute. The District’s Director of Communications –in a video-taped interview with a local news outlet reporting on a fight occurring on Ridgewood HS’s campus the day before—was presumably asked about injuries sustained by employees while breaking up the fight.
She stated, “First of all, don’t get involved, don’t get in the middle of a fight; call for the SRO. In no circumstance should they try to intervene between two people fighting.”
In making this public statement, the District’s spokesperson not only undermined the authority of staff (granted in statute, contract, Board Policy, and this Student Code of Conduct) to act in a manner necessary to ensure the safety of students, but painted a public image for our District which suggests that the employees of this District will NOT act in the interest of student safety. This is obviously a potentially dangerous misperception. At the very least, those statements were read by our employees as the District’s unwillingness to back and support their actions at a time when failure to respond simply was not an option.
The administrators, teachers, SRP, students and parents should be clear about the provisions for use of Reasonable Force, and our staff should go to work every day knowing that they have the full support of the Superintendent and the Board in enforcing the Student Code of Conduct. USEP would encourage the Board to correct this misinformation in a public statement as soon as possible.