8/9/11 School board OKs discipline policy

School board OKs discipline policy
Teachers allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ to correct students
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 8/9/11     
Reprinted with permission.

 The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education voted Monday to approve three new discipline-related policies.

 The board’s vote during an afternoon work session followed changes in state law that school systems are required to put in place as the 2011-12 year begins.

 Board member Patsy Simpson voted against the policies after expressing concerns that the new law allows “reasonable force” to“correct” a student.

 The legislation, which passed with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, eliminates automatic long-term suspensions for offenses other than bringing a firearm or explosive device to school. Long term suspensions for other serious offenses are allowed on a case-by-case basis.

 Steve Van Pelt, the school board’s vice chairman, said the new law is part of a long-term effort to cut down on the number of long-term suspensions, particularly among minority students.

 Simpson criticized the law as “vague” in defining when force to correct a student would be warranted.

 As a parent, she said, her default position is “Unless I give you permission, you are not going to put your hands on my child.”

 Board attorney Trey Allen said the policy does not elaborate on when force can be used for correction because the law does not specify those situations.

 Van Pelt used the example of breaking up a fight between students or restraining an out-of-control student.

 Simpson said she would object to using force against a child who might be defiant but wasn’t hurting anyone. Eva DuBuisson, another board attorney, previously used the example of a school employee guiding a student back into a line by placing hands on the child’s shoulders as a potential example.

 Allen said court decisions will “flesh out” what the law means.

 Allen added he foresees few situations where force could be used to correct a child without other scenarios mentioned in the law — such as self-defense or protection of people or property — also coming into play.

 Teachers “now have this right, whatever it may be … as a matter of state law,” he said, and the school system is required to adjust its policy in response.