The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education approved a new Student Code of Character, Conduct and Support this week.

The updated code was developed with the district and hundreds of community stakeholders with the goal of creating a universal plan across the district, specifically as it relates to discipline. 

According to the needs assessment for the resolution, the district's discipline data shows an “over-reliance on exclusionary consequences,” like out-of-school suspensions, which lead to a loss of instructional time. These practices are disproportionately applied to students of color, the assessment states. 

The new code aims to combat those issues by outlining a universal guide for all schools in the district to reference.

Sabrina Coone-Godfrey, a parent in the school district, was one of the many community members who participated in the creation of the new code. She said the old code didn't provide a discipline guide for the whole district, which resulted in each school handling problems in its own way.

“So now we have something that is universal. It's cohesive. It says, ‘OK, this is how we're going to guide our district.' This is how all of our schools are going to have this path to walk,” she said. 

The new code lays out specific guidelines to determine the appropriate disciplinary action for a student. It also lists prevention and intervention strategies at each violation level, with restorative practices like problem-solving circles and mentoring. 

At the board meeting on June 14, Board Member Leah Crowley said she'd heard concerns from teachers who felt the new code lacks consequences for actions. 

While the district's goal is to reduce exclusionary disciplinary practices, the new code doesn't rule them out completely. 

“I think that the biggest misconception is that there are no consequences. That this is more just, ‘Oh we're going to talk to someone about their issue and that's it.' But that's not the case,” Coone-Godfrey said. 

Out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions, detentions and referrals are all still listed as consequences in the new code, but they correlate with specific levels of behavioral violations. 

Coone-Godfrey said she feels the specificity of the guidelines actually empowers educators and staff by having a clear document to point to in determining the best course of action in disciplining a student.

During the public comment portion of the June 14 board meeting, Ronda Mays called the new code “a good foundation.”

“Every student in our district will be impacted by this code because we're going to be looking at changing the way we view our students and interact with our students in the district,” Mays said. “We talk about equality and making certain that all of our students have equal access. Well, they can't have equal access if they're not in school.”

Board Member Elisabeth Motsinger also said she felt it was important that the new code makes it clear that students are wanted in school.

“If you're a threat to other people for their safety, you can be excluded for a period of time but … we don't throw our students away, ever,” she said. “They're always our students. As long as they're a part of our district, we have to find a way to keep them engaged and learning through our district.” 

But that will take more than just a revised code of conduct, some speakers noted.

Valerie Glass, the executive director of Triad Restorative Justice, also served on the task force that helped develop the new code. She called it a “step in the right direction,” but said there was still work to be done. 

“We are all accountable to create a safe community for our children to grow up in. This is not something that rests solely on the shoulders of our school district,” she said. “This is a community responsibility.”

Board Member Dana Caudill Jones said she felt skeptical about how much change this document would really bring about.

“Our discipline data is horrible when it comes to disparities for students of color. That needs to be changed. But you know, I can tell you I think that's a heart problem,” Jones said. “I think we have adults in our district that have biases that they haven't figured out yet. … I don't know that 80 pages of paper is going to change that.”

Superintendent Tricia McManus said that it wouldn't be the 80-page document that makes a difference in the district.

“The good thing about the 80 pages is it provides the consistent expectation which is going to be critical,” McManus said. 

The district will provide orientations throughout the summer to educate school personnel on the changes to the code. 

Chief Officer of Learning Supports Dr. Lionel Kato explained that these orientations will involve a summer institute for school leaders and student services staff. After the orientation phase comes the implementation phase, which will include monthly professional learning sessions for administrators and short sessions throughout the year for teachers. 

"We want to make sure that we're providing those structures and systems ... that prepare our teachers and all of our school personnel in every level, to operationalize the code with fidelity and integrity," Kato said. 

The new code was approved with a vote of 7-2. Jones and Board Member Andrea Bramer voted against the approval.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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