Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

April 30, 2014

Unit 40 discipline, new policy disputed

TONY HUFFMAN Daily News
Effingham Daily News

---- — A couple claiming Unit 40's discipline policy is too strict also questioned a proposed handbook change that would allow school officials to view a student's social media profile.

Dave Campbell believes the number of suspensions at the high school is high.

“The concerning numbers are the amount of suspensions and that is what brought me here in the first place,” said Campbell. “I've talked to several parents, and they all feel the same way. The rules are a little aggressive, not a little aggressive, a lot aggressive in the manner they treat the kids in the high school.”

Campbell filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records pertaining to the number of student suspensions. Although the records provided by the district showed a fluctuation in the number of suspensions, it did show an overall decrease in the past decade.

Peggy Campbell said she doesn't approve of the style of discipline her son and others have received at the school.

“I have trouble with the way they are handling kids,” said Peggy Campbell. “They are raising a school full of robots with the amount of rules and how quickly they suspend kids.”

Peggy Campbell openly referred to her son, who was suspended recently.Campbell said her son was suspended after he allegedly stared in an intimidating fashion at a teacher when told to leave the lunch room. Another transgression, she said, included a teacher observing him taking an indirect route from his school to his job, to which she questioned why the school felt the need to monitor her 17-year-old son's actions after he was checked out of school by a parent.

Because of student privacy, Effingham High School Principal Jason Fox said he doesn't comment on specific situations related to student discipline.

“We have rules at the high school that have to be followed,” said Superintendent Mark Doan after Monday's meeting. “Beyond that, I'm not going to comment.”

EHS teachers defended the school's discipline policy. Teacher Jim Hammer read a statement Monday signed by 70 of the district's teachers, as well as administrators.

“At last month's school board meeting, there were negative comments made regarding the discipline policy at Unit 40, some of which were blatant falsehoods,” said Hammer. “As teachers and support staff at Effingham High School, we wish to set the record straight. We collectively fully support the policy and the administrators at EHS.”

The Campbells went on to question the district's proposed student handbook change related to monitoring a student's social media usage.

“One that really came to light for us, that falls under this same realm that we are really worried about the principal and vice principal having too much control over our kids, is the Right to Privacy in a School Setting Act,” said Campbell.

The handbook change being considered is to align the district with a state law that went into effect at the beginning of the year that allows school districts to request or require students to provide passwords to their social networking accounts if there is just and reasonable cause that the content posted on the account violates school rules and disciplinary codes of conduct. The password must be gained with a parent's permission.

Campbell questioned the vague wording to the policy change, which he believes gives administration too much power to view a student's phone. He pointed to wording added to the end of Public Act 098-0129, which gives discretion for its usage to the superintendent.

“This is pretty alarming,” he said. “Where does the Fourth Amendment play into it?”

Board President Del Soltwedel asked Campbell "if we are told that a student has on his or her phone that they are going to kill a certain student, are you saying we don't have any right to worry about that?”

Campbell said he doesn't have an issue with viewing a profile in the event of an emergency but believes the lack of stipulations in the board policy gives the district overreaching power.

“I'm saying this thing needs reworded. If there is a bomb threat on an individual, on a student or a major event, we are all for that. The way this is worded, Mr. (Jason) Fox (EHS Principal) or Mr. (Cody) Lewis (EHS vice principal) could go give out points for not dressing for PE or looking at a teacher the wrong way and get in trouble for disciplinary action and look at your phone.”

Doan said that is not the purpose of the policy change.

“Our administrators don’t want to go onto a student's phone,” he said. “They have enough to do. If there is an eminent issue, as superintendent, they are going to call me and ask if they can contact a parent to get a password.”

Former Effingham City Mayor and police chief John Lange, who was in attendance with other current and former Effingham City Council and County Board members, suggested the policy be reworded.

“That should be in there,” said Lange. “What you said, eminent threat, should be in there.”

Many on the board disagreed with adding stipulations to the policy change and said there are too many variables to recount them all.

“I strongly feel that the superintendent is qualified to decide if there is an eminent threat to our kids,” said Soltwedel, adding that if people are unhappy with that decision they can vote out the board.

Although the Campbells didn't agree with that line of reasoning, Doan reiterated the job of school administration, teachers and the board.

“Legally, we have an obligation as a school district to keep a safe environment for students,” said Doan. “We have rules that have to be followed at Unit 40, just like any school.”

The board decided to table the change to the student handbook and bring it back for a vote at a future meeting. The board instructed Doan to consult the district's attorney about the possibility of adding eminent threat to the proposed change.

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

Number of suspensions per school year over the past seven years 2004-05 30 2005-06 46 2006-07 51 2007-08 59 2008-09 53 2009-10 84 2010-11 53 2011-12 45 2013-14 45 2013-14 46 students as of March 24, 2014 Campbell read the public act that allows administrators to look at a student's phone at Monday night's school board meeting. Notification regarding student accounts of profiles on social networking websites, state law requires the district to notify students and their parents or guardians that school officials may request or require a student or their parent or guardian to give out a password or other related account information to access a student's account or profile on a social networking website. This request may be made only if there is a reasonable cause to believe the students account contains evidence that he or she has violated the school's disciplinary policy. Any request may be acted upon by the preapproval of the superintendent.