LAND O'LAKES — It should go without saying that schools hold students to the highest academic standards.
Cheating in any form is not acceptable, and will be punished.
For many years, though, that message has been a blip in the Pasco County School District's student code of conduct. The 19-page document mentioned "academic dishonesty" as a single item in a list of mid-level "disruptive behaviors" that could lead to disciplinary action.
That's about to change.
Superintendent Kurt Browning has recommended the School Board add a full page to the code of conduct detailing district expectations for academic integrity.
"Students with academic integrity make decisions based on ethics and values that will prepare them to be productive and ethical citizens," the proposed language states. "Students at all levels are expected to pursue their studies with integrity and honesty. All work that a student submits will be the original and authentic work of the individual student unless otherwise specified in the assignment."
The issue arose along with concerns about students' behavior in virtual courses, said Dave Law, co-chairman of the district's code of conduct revision committee.
"With all the virtual opportunities, it became important to spell things out," Law explained. "We wanted to be sure all the different aspects were covered."
A lengthy, but not exhaustive, list of infractions points directly to some of the worries that board members and teachers have raised about online course work, as that option has grown in popularity. It includes:
• Using or consulting any materials or personal electronic devices/wireless communication devices not authorized by the teacher during a test or assignment;
• Giving or receiving unauthorized assistance on an assignment; and
• Willfully or knowingly taking an online course or examination on behalf of another person.
But the new section is not directed solely at computerized classes.
Teachers in traditional classrooms also should find additional support to halt plagiarism, copying, lying and other forms of cheating among their students, said Holly Rockhill, a senior supervisor in the Office of Student Support Programs and Services.
"Some teachers have included these (rules) in their syllabus for many years," Rockhill said, noting that International Baccalaureate students are among those already required to sign academic pledges. "Hopefully this will support teachers in their efforts."
Violators would face penalties ranging from a conference to in-school suspension. They are spelled out in a new discipline chart called a "matrix," which aims to more strictly codify the punishments that schools may hand out to students.
Browning has repeatedly said that he wanted to implement a more streamlined and consistent model for discipline, so students and parents at all schools will know what to expect. In the past, he has received complaints that schools treat the same rule violations differently.
This chart offers a progression of penalties that depends on the severity of the student action as well as the frequency of the behavior. It would serve as a reference in most cases.
"If you're someone who has gotten into trouble many times before, obviously you're going to get a tougher discipline than someone who has never done anything before," Rockhill said. "They will be looking at your previous history."
Zero tolerance would remain for a handful of violations, such as bringing a weapon to school and making a bomb threat.
The district borrowed this idea from other school districts but tailored it to local needs, Law said.
School Board members have scheduled a final public hearing and review of the revised code of conduct for May 20. It would take effect for the new academic year in August.
Rockhill encouraged parents and students to read the document and understand its importance.
"Unfortunately, they don't always see the relevance of it until they get in trouble," she said. "It is what we are bound to in some of the decisions we make."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.