School District not open to input on student code of conduct
The Indian River County School District administration, which has a habit of presenting faits accomplis to the School Board to be rubber-stamped, was at it again when a hearing was held, ostensibly for public input, on a revised student code of conduct.
Jacqueline Warrior, NAACP education committee member, raised objections to the revised code, saying the definition of gang activity in the code was too loose. She noted that any principal or school resource officer has authority to label a student a gang member and put it in the school file, which could possibly become part of a juvenile’s justice record.
Warrior said she recently participated in a hearing on a student expulsion where the principal assumed a black student intentionally was wearing gang colors, red and white. She later saw a group of white students near Vero Beach High School also wearing red and white, and said she learned those are the school colors.
“The color of your skin determines what gang colors are,” she remarked.
The Florida Department of Education’s 2016 profile of the Indian River County School District says blacks are disciplined here eight times more often than the norm. Statewide, blacks are disciplined three times more often.
Warrior said she had volunteered as a juvenile justice advocate for four years, and noted that the School District initiates the majority of juvenile justice cases in the county. She proposed that “illegal activity” be the threshold definition of gang activity or membership.
But School Board Chairperson Dale Simchick said the School District and the juvenile justice department are separate, and took the position that school administrators and law enforcement could be trusted to be fair.
Furthermore – fait accompli time – school board attorney Suzanne D’Agresta said any changes to the revised code other than cleaning up typos would require republishing the code, another legal notice and another public hearing.
If that happened, students wouldn’t have it at the beginning of the school year, Superintendent Mark Rendell said.
But Warrior pointed out the existing code could be used in the meantime.
School Board member Shawn Frost seemed sympathetic to Warrior’s concerns and made a motion to redraft and rehear the code of student conduct, but it failed to pass. Board member Charles Searcy requested future public hearings be held in time to actually allow for public input.
The two actions drew criticism from School Board member Claudia Jimenez. She chided Searcy and Frost for entertaining changes at a late date. They should have come forward with changes “in a timely manner,” she said.
The revised code was approved, 3-2, with Matthew McCain, Simchick and Jimenéz voting yes, while Frost and Searcy withheld approval.