As students head back to class this week in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, they will be learning about a new student Code of Character, Conduct and Support.
The code outlines the rights and responsibilities of students, parents and staff. It also provides a guide for how behavior violations should be handled, including consequences and intervention strategies.
The WS/FCS Board of Education approved the new code in June. It was developed with hundreds of community stakeholders with the goal of creating a universal plan across the district, specifically as it relates to discipline.
The code categorizes behavior violations into six levels. Each level has its own set of possible responses/consequences for the violation, and intervention strategies.
There is also a Behavior Violations Matrix which accounts for 11 pages of the code document. It outlines specific violations and their associated level, noting that some disciplinary responses are modified for younger children and students with disabilities.
Executive Director of Equity, Access, and Acceleration Effie McMillian says that the district's previous code used “a lot of discretionary language” to describe behavior, with words like “disrespectful,” and “insubordinate.”
“That type of language to describe behavior is so subjective, and it's left up to individual interpretation,” she says. “And so by removing some of that discretion, it's more objective and more concrete in terms of how we are truly looking at behaviors that students are exhibiting in class, and then giving consistency across the board on how we actually respond to them.”
Last year, there were 30,000 lost instructional days due to suspensions. More than half of those days affected Black students.
Additionally, Black students were four times more likely to be suspended than any other group. Hispanic students and students with disabilities were twice as likely.
Leslie Mullinix is a parent of two. She helped develop the code, and talked about it with her children.
“They had seen the disparity and the way different consequences have played out for different students, whether it was for themselves, or for students in their classroom,” Mullinix says. “So I think that they when they understood the intention behind the code work, they felt it was important.”
The district hopes to reduce discipline disparities as well as the number of out-of-school suspensions in general, though it remains an option for higher level offenses.
Superintendent Tricia McManus says that like any other subject or skill taught in school, behavior needs to be taught.
“The code is also a lot about restorative interventions and practices and how do we deescalate students that do make mistakes? Because I can promise you, students are going to make mistakes,” McManus says. “They're children and they're teenagers and they're going to make mistakes. And so the code is really about how do we respond to that when that happens?”
The code lists examples of behavioral and academic interventions including academic coaching, aggression reduction coaching, apologies, counseling and root cause analysis.
“It also focuses on building relationships between students and the adults,” McManus says. “And honestly, our students thrive when they are cared for and loved, and that is what happens also in the code.”
School staff participated in extensive trainings related to the new code over the summer. McManus says that training will be ongoing as the district begins to implement the new code this year.
Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.