The New Paltz Central School District (NPCSD) is considering a series of changes to its code of conduct, the 36-page “living document” that serves as a guideline for students, staff and the district as a whole.
Ricki Butler, the NPCSD’s director of student support services, presented many of the changes during a meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday, June 1. Some changes included the use of pronouns, removing “he” or “she” and adding “they” in an effort to be fully inclusive.
“We wanted to consider the inclusion and respect for non-binary individuals in the use of pronouns to acknowledge and increase the sense of safety and belonging to individuals who may not identify with a specific gender,” Butler said.
Other areas of focus included cyberbullying and social media use.
“We’ve had many code infractions of this nature over the year, and they’ve increased since our return from the COVID pause,” Butler said. “And it created an impact on student social, emotional wellbeing, student attendance and increased disruptions to teaching and learning. We’ve made changes and addressed cyber bullying and social media throughout the code.”
Areas where behavior was already detailed are now likely to include issues that begin off-campus. In a line about behavior which are not condoned are, “Intimidation, harassment or discrimination on the basis of, for example, actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex, and prohibit denigration of a student’s physical size/shape or for any other reason, including acts committed via social media.”
Another would now read, “The distribution of materials that are obscene, advocate illegal action or appeal libelous including distribution on social media.” The word “cyberbullying” has been added numerous times throughout the document.
The district is also asking parents to help keep an eye on cell phone and social media use, even in elementary school. Using cell phones to take photos of students or staff without their permission would now be prohibited.
“There is an increasing number of issues with elementary school students and their cell phone,” Butler said. “We used to only be concerned about middle and high. Now there’s a concern for elementary school, and this information reaches back to us from the school principals, from parents, from counselors and so forth and I hear about these things…I have conducted different investigations over the course of the year, and very often they include an infraction involving students taking unwarranted pictures of other students, videos of other students, videos of teachers, and then doing unsavory things with them. So we wanted to make sure we address that the use of cell phone cameras is now prohibited, and it’s very specific in the code.”
Other proposed changes include changing a single word to more fully embrace the district’s goals.
“We…removed the use of the word ‘punishment’ from the code in favor of the term ‘disciplinary intervention’ or ‘discipline,’ which includes restorative justice and referrals to counselors and clinicians, so that students may learn alternatives to their behaviors and coping strategies,” Butler said. “It’s well documented that the term punishment is not effective in changing behaviors; the act of punishment is not effective in changing behaviors.”
The district is also seeking to continue its shift to restorative justice by including it in the code of conduct. Butler said the district’s social workers have nearly completed their restorative justice training and have participated in book groups regarding the practice, which seeks to foster greater understanding as a means of changing behavior.
“(Social workers) will have a significant role in supporting administrators, staff and students to create a culture of care in our school district,” Butler said. “And this is part of our ongoing five-year plan in training everyone in restorative justice. And it’s going very, very well, so we wanted to add that to the code and to our disciplinary procedures.”
Butler said the work was the culmination of a series of virtual subcommittee meetings, further fine-tuning with School Board Vice-President Johanna Herget, and insight from Sydney Myers, a rising sophomore at New Paltz High School and local community members and educators.
The proposed changes, if approved by the Board of Education, would go into effect for the 2022-23 school year.