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Group rebuffs School Board suggestions

A school district committee decided this week to reject almost all changes suggested by the School Board in the Student Code of Conduct.

Earlier this month, the board discussed such changes as allowing students to have cell phones and pagers and banning paddling as a discipline option.

The members also talked about tweaking the zero tolerance policy to encourage longer expulsions for serious drug offenses. Unable to reach a consensus on what to change, the board sent the issue to the Code of Conduct Committee for more study.

The group, composed mostly of school administrators, met Thursday and decided not to follow any of the board's suggestions.

That sends the issue back to the board, which will take it up in April. A public hearing may be set for May.

Bonnie Hardiman, director of student services, declined to detail the group's discussions, saying she wanted board members to hear directly from the staff rather than read about them in a newspaper.

She did, however, provide some general information.

The committee recommended keeping the current prohibitions on students having cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices in school, Hardiman said. The current language in the code works for administrators, she said.

In separate interviews on Friday, board members Carol Snyder, Pat Deutschman and Ginger Bryant said administrators should spell out what devices they don't want to see and consistently enforce the policy.

School officials are concerned about students who use the devices in ways that disrupt the school.

Snyder said that phones and pagers do not cause a problem as long as they are put away and turned off and that schools should not be concerned about them. Bryant agreed, noting that if the schools started to have problems, the board could revisit the issue.

Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel said she would agree to keep the prohibition so that administrators can control potential problems. "If they see them (cell phones), then they can react to them and they want the ability to do that," she said.

Himmel also said she agreed with the committee that the zero tolerance policy language should stay as it is rather than specifying longer expulsions for students caught with felony-level amounts and kinds of drugs.

The code sets a minimum length of expulsion for students possessing or distributing drugs or alcohol but does not give a maximum punishment.

After a particularly difficult series of expulsions earlier this month involving students with clean discipline records who were caught distributing dangerous substances like OxyContin and cocaine, the board talked about adding longer expulsions for felony-level drugs.

Board members have already backed longer expulsions by agreeing to send administrators a letter telling them they support the more serious punishment for the more serious drug cases.

Another area discussed was corporal punishment, or paddling. The committee felt that it should remain as a discipline option. Snyder said Friday that she disagrees.

"I think that is a parent's right if they choose to use it, but it's a parent's responsibility," she said, adding that requiring parents to write to the school to keep their child from being paddled was wrong. The district shouldn't assume a parent's permission unless they receive a written notice from them, she said.

Deutschman said she would only agree to keep corporal punishment if she were given some compelling reason.

"I'm not supportive of corporal punishment. I've talked to some principals who say it used to be effective, but in this day and time, with lawsuits and such . . . we're trying to be extraordinarily sensitive to issues of physical and emotional abuse," she said.

According to a report by the Florida Department of Education completed in January 2001, instances of corporal punishment throughout Florida schools have declined dramatically. The number of paddlings plunged statewide from nearly 125,000 in 1985 to 11,500 during the 1999-2000 school year statewide.

In Citrus during that school year, there were 21 reported paddlings. No students were paddled during that year in Pasco, Hernando and Pinellas counties. In Levy County, 144 paddlings were recorded, 135 in Sumter, 854 in Marion County and 11 in Hillsborough.

Bryant said she sided with the committee. "I'm from the old school," she said. "I'd like having it in as an option for the principal and the parents."

Board member Patience Nave could not be reached for comment.

_ Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendtsptimes.com or 564-3621.

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