Livingston Board of Education Discusses New Code of Conduct Including a New Drug Policy, Anti-Bullying Training, Cell Phone Usage, and a Controversial Dress Code
Tuesday, June 7, 2011 • 6:31am
LIVINGSTON, NJ – The Livingston Board of Education tackled several important aspects of a New Code of Conduct at Monday night’s meeting including a new drug policy, anti-bullying training, cell phone usage, and a controversial dress code.
The drug policy will be drafted in the coming weeks and brought before the Board on June 20th, with a possible vote for approval at that meeting or during July. Dr. Draeger began his introduction to the new policy, by saying, “Your schools reflect your community. Livingston is like every other community . . . We have alcoholism and drug use.” In acknowledging this truth, the District has had support systems in place such as counseling, education, and referrals for drug screening, for many years. A Core Team has helped to lead this effort in the past, but Dr. Draeger expressed the need for stricter guidelines and polices to be implemented generally.
He suggested that instead of the referrals for drug screening that have previously been made, staff recommend that parents take their children for screening if students show signs of drug use, such as noticeable changes in behavior, attendance, and alertness. This will give the parents an opportunity to intervene before the school can take punitive actions if, for example, a student is found to be using alcohol or drugs during the school day or at school events of any kind.
The proposed policy will mandate that if a student is suspected to be under the influence during school or a school event, she be brought by a parent to be screened for drugs. The parent will have a two hour window in which to do so. If a parent refuses, this will be taken as an admission of guilt; and the student will be punished. If a parent is unable to bring the student, two staff members from the school will drive the student to be screened. A student will be suspected of drug use if she exhibits a number of behaviors which are symptomatic of inebriation such as slurred speech, glazed eyes, stumbling, etc. A teacher will send this student to the nurse who will then evaluate the student, as well. Breathalyzers to test for alcohol will be used on the school premises.
To ensure a strict zero tolerance message, anyone found to have used drugs will automatically be punished on a progressive scale based on previous infractions. A person who is found to have distributed drugs on the campus will also be punished on a progressive scale, which Board member Ron Spring, said should be based instead on the level of drug as well as the scope of distribution. Dr. Draeger informed him, however, that by law, the punishment must be progressive, beginning with an automatic ten day suspension for distribution. Nevertheless, any student found in possession of a narcotic on school property will be reported to the police, which may result in consequences outside of what the school has determined. In addition to the tighter rules, therapeutic services will continue to be available for any student who is found to be using drugs.
One parent urged the Board to wait on making a decision regarding this policy since he said this was not a policy that should be decided upon in June, because of time constraints. He also noted that it seemed unfair for this to be voted upon without having student input since students should be made aware that “drug testing is something that they may have to face if they come to school sleepy.”
The Code of Conduct will also expand upon the District’s already established policies regarding bullying and respect, as mandated by state law. Dr. Draeger describes the law as, “bringing a formal reporting structure” for rules and procedures that are generally in place across all of the schools. The policy will incorporate some changes such as the implementation of an anti-bullying specialist at each school. Each specialist will work under an anti-bullying coordinator. This will have no budgetary impact, as no new staff will be hired to fill these roles.
Any incident of bullying that is witnessed outside of the school between students must now be brought to the attention of the anti-bullying specialist. Any instance of bullying that is witnessed by an adult on school premises must be reported to the principal by the end of the same school day. As stated in the policy, this will include any adult on the premises. Some discussion arose about how to disseminate this kind of information to parents who might be in a school building and who would then be expected to report an incident of this kind. Board Members discussed posting information on the website, including the entire Code of Conduct. This issue will continue to be resolved with time. But training will be provided to all staff across the district during the second Monday of September. Students will also receive training about bullying and respect and will be encouraged to report instances that they witness.
Many schools around the country have banned cell phone usage. Under the Code of Conduct, for the Livingston Elementary Schools, phones will not be allowed to be used at any point during the day. This will be the general rule for the Middle School except when the phones are used as educational instruments. At the High School, students will be able to use their phones in class for educational purposes only. However, they will be permitted to use their phones during any non-instructional time, including lunch and breaks between classes.
Even though Dr. Draeger began his Superintendent’s Report by assuring parents and students that the Dress Code policy is not new and has not changed, the policy brought about some criticism. The minor changes being made to the Dress Code involve “Gang-related paraphernalia” and include requiring closed shoes for safety during activities like certain chemical experiments or in Shop class.
However, one gentleman who described himself as “an old fuddy duddy,” felt strongly about what he has seen students wearing in the middle school and high school, calling the clothes being worn "totally inappropriate." His counterpart, a young lady in the eighth grade, brought a short speech and petition of other students opposing the Dress Code with her to the meeting. She spoke of the Dress Code as, “unreasonable, unclear and outdated,” stressing that the age old fingertips-length-shorts-and-skirt rule for the girls was almost impossible to meet currently both because of fashion (it’s “nearly impossible” to find things that length) and varying arm length (which only adds to the former problem). She also noted that this rule is arbitrarily enforced and recommended that the language of the policy be changed so that “undergarments and cleavage” are not visible at all instead of putting limits on specific types of clothing.
During an update on the current sports program for Heritage Middle School through the YMCA, The YMCA representative at the meeting shared that she was, “Pleased to be considered as a partner again in the 2011/2012 school year.” She spoke of this year’s program as a success, with two championships in Boys basketball and soccer. She also informed those present that that the same 15 sports will be offered next year, and that the same 15 coaches - 13 who have already accepted - have been invited back. Some changes have been made to the program, however. The fee for participation has increased to $275, for instance. A fundraiser will also be held to offset costs for the sports program.
In other news, the Board presented several awards at the beginning of the meeting for various Livingston student achievements. Among those honored were participants in the NJ Consortium for Gifted and Talented Debate Tournament, NJ Science League Competition, North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad, and the American Mathematics Competition, to name but a few. Students received their awards and were photographed with Dr. Draeger and members of the Board. After being honored, several students gather proudly outside of the Livingston High School Auditorium with their families to take more pictures.
To continue this celebration of excellence, The Livingston Education Foundation (LEF), along with a representative of its LHS Hall of Fame Committee and a member of the Hall of Fame, announced the five new Hall of Fame inductees for 2011. The inductees, who hail from different parts of the country -- from Massachusetts, to Illinois, to Washington -- will be honored during the Homecoming Weekend from October 14th - 16th. The alumni will visit LHS on the Friday morning of Homecoming Weekend to meet with the high school students and share their stories.
The only woman being inducted this year, Joanne Silberner, a Class of 1973 graduate and a former Health Correspondent for NPR, is excited to meet the students and bring the stories about her travels and work to them. Another inductee, Alfred Savia, will be celebrating his 40th reunion in addition to this honor. Mr. Savia has a highly accomplished career as an award winning musical director, conductor and teacher. A number of music students will have the opportunity to perform with him during his visit to LHS this fall.