Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

June 26, 2014

Parents push Unit 40 district to lighten up policy

EFFINGHAM — Parents continue to rebuke Unit 40’s discipline policy and procedures even though administration presented rational for what parents are calling overly aggressive discipline.

Superintendent Mark Doan presented Monday figures for suspensions and expulsions over the past several years.

“We had nine expulsions this school year,” he said. “Eight of them were due to violations of the drug policy. Our board of education decided we aren’t going to have drugs in our schools.”

Although Effingham High School ranks higher than most area schools for expulsions, Doan said that is often because of other schools’ preferences not to expel and to place a student in an alternative program.

He added that any course of disciplinary action within the district follows a closely monitored points system by administrators trained in Reid interview training. The training, which instructs administration on the best way to handle a student, is approved by the state board of education.

“94 percent of EHS students followed the code of conduct so as not to earn an out-of-school suspension,” said Doan of the 2013-14 school year. “That is in line with previous years.”

Doan said the discipline only pertained to a small fraction of the student body.

“Of those students seen in the EHS office for any reason, whether it is a bus write-up or something in the hallway, from the least consequential issue to an expulsion, 51 percent of those students that came into the office didn’t earn any points at all,” said Doan.

Nearly a dozen community members brought up issues related to what they believe is aggressive discipline at the high school.

Parent David Campbell again asked the school board that administration ease up on student discipline. He pointed to figures he gathered from schools of comparable size, such as Charleston and Mattoon high schools, which have lower expulsion rates, although suspension rates were comparable between the schools. Effingham expelled 20 students in 2010, seven in 2011, 18 in 2012, 15 in 2013 and nine in 2014. During the same years, Charleston, Mattoon and Salem high schools, he said, each expelled no more than two students.

Concerned parent Jamie Warner said when her daughter attended Effingham High School, she regularly felt singled out by school administration. Warner contends she only felt comfortable speaking before the school board because her daughter recently graduated.

“I felt very uncomfortable going into the school,” she added. “I felt like I was being looked down at.”

Another parent was concerned about the district’s social media policy amendment that allows administration to obtain a student’s password to look at his or her cellphone or social media accounts if an administrator believes there is an imminent threat. Recent state legislation allows districts to implement such a policy.

“I am here to speak out against the change to the handbook,” said Brad Hibdon. “It is illegal and against the Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure.”

Hibdon said he hopes there would be more sensitivity on the local level.

“People are afraid to come here, because they are afraid of the school,” he said. “People are being bullied by the school district and I’m tired of it.”

Hibdon said if the district believes there is an imminent threat to the school by a student, administration should contact the Effingham Police Department or the student’s parents.

Several parents at the meeting said they probably won’t sign the handbook before the upcoming year.

“The students are held to what is in the handbook,” said Doan.

Hibdon asked the repercussions of a parent not signing a handbook, to which Doan replied, “we will have to cross that bridge when we cross it.”

Board member Carol Ruffner defended the handbook change.

“The reason that it is in there is when you look at the school shootings in school, and they go back and look at those students’ phones, they saw where the students were posting ‘I’m going to go shoot someone in the school,’” said Ruffner. “That is the only reason the school would want to get into a student’s phone.”

Campbell said he and others would continue attending school board meetings until administration stopped being so strict on students.

“Something needs to be done,” said Warner. “Unit 40 is looking bad.”

Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, at tony.huffman@effinghamdailynews.com or on Twitter @EDNthuffman.


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