Originally created 07/30/00

County changes policies



In the coming school year, violations of Columbia County school system's code of conduct could carry different punishments depending on the age of the offender.

That's because a state law now requires local school systems to develop policies that improve pupil behavior and discipline, including age-appropriate codes of conduct.

In the past, Columbia County schools had a single code of conduct that applied to all grade levels. But now, school officials have prepared separate codes for elementary, middle and high school pupils.

Richmond County began introducing age-appropriate consequences last year, and this year it has developed a new code of conduct that is being printed to be sent to the Georgia Department of Education by Aug. 15. Pat Burau, Richmond County assistant superintendent of school improvement and program development, said administrators had requested the changes last year.

Columbia County Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle said that, although expectations for pupil behavior are the same among grade levels, the codes vary in how violators are disciplined.

For example, the elementary code allows principal discretion when punishing a pupil for fighting. The elementary pupils can receive up to short-term suspension for fighting and long-term suspension for offenses against school employees.

"That's a whole different ball game," Mr. Nagle said of elementary school discipline. "They have to be treated differently."

At the middle and high school levels, disciplinary actions vary depending on the number of fighting offenses the pupil has committed. Punishments typically are harsher at the high school level. For example, a first offense for fighting in middle school could be suspension for two to four days. But at the high school level, a first-time fighting offense could carry a minimum four-day suspension.

Pupils will receive copies of their code of conduct when classes begin in August, and parents will be required to sign them.

Some administrators said there needs to be differences in the way children of various age groups are disciplined.

"When you've got an 18-year-old mature person as opposed to an 11-year-old bouncing off the walls, you're dealing with immaturity most of the time," Greenbrier Middle School Principal Jeff Carney said. "It's not so much they're doing it to spite you. We can't discipline middle school students as though they were mature high-schoolers."

The change in approaching pupil discipline came out of the Improved Student Learning Environment and Discipline Act, passed in 1999 with many of its measures to be enacted by this month.

Punishments for some offenses - such as weapons and drugs - in Columbia County's codes do not vary as much among the elementary, middle and high school levels. But there is still more discretion allowed by elementary administrators.

"In the earlier grades, we're working with them on learning responsibility and learning the difference between right and wrong, along with their parents," North Harlem Elementary Principal Lisa Soloff said. "I think in elementary grades that's still a process they're in the learning stages of, so we really need to deal with them in a different way than the middle and the high schools."

Mr. Nagle said the school system will continue to evaluate the codes each year and make changes as appropriate.

"This can't be ironclad," he said. "It's always got to be kind of like a working copy."

Proper punishment

Local school systems must have age-appropriate codes of conduct. Here are some examples of how discipline varies among grade levels in Columbia County:

Weapons

Elementary school: Violators might be subject to long-term suspension or expulsion. Individuals possessing firearms or explosive material while at school or at school functions will be subject to expulsion. This violation will be reported to a law enforcement agency.

Middle school: A pupil will be suspended immediately and removed from school. This offense carries the recommendation for long-term suspension, expulsion or removal from school for one calendar year. This violation will be reported to a law enforcement agency.

High school: A student will be suspended immediately and removed from school. This offense carries the recommendation for long-term suspension, expulsion or removal from school for one calendar year. This violation will be reported to a law enforcement agency.

Theft

Elementary school: Violators will be disciplined up to short-term suspension at the discretion of the principal.

Middle school: Violators will be subject to two to six days suspension or long-term suspension.

High school: Violators will be subject to two to six days suspension. This violation might be reported to law enforcement.

Bullying

Elementary school: Violators will be disciplined up to short-term suspension at the discretion of the principal.

Middle school: Violators will be subject to the following disciplinary actions - first offense, suspension for two days; second offense, suspension for four days; third offense, long-term suspension.

High school: Violators will be subject to the following disciplinary actions - first offense, suspension for two days; second offense, suspension for five days; third offense, long-term suspension.

"When you've got an 18-year-old mature person as opposed to an 11-year-old bouncing off the walls, you're dealing with immaturity most of the time."- Jeff Carney, Greenbrier Middle School principal

Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222.



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