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Schenectady schools unveil revamped student code of conduct, plans to translate to multiple languages

Schenectady schools unveil revamped student code of conduct, plans to translate to multiple languages

Document to be translated into multiple languages
Schenectady schools unveil revamped student code of conduct, plans to translate to multiple languages
Superintendent Larry Spring talks to Jasmine Gripper at Hamilton school in 2016.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY -- Schenectady City School District officials Wednesday unveiled a new student code of conduct that emphasizes the district's focus on a restorative approach to student behavior and minimizing the use of student suspensions.

The district also plans to translate the new student code into Spanish, Arabic and Pashtu, languages other than English commonly spoken by students and their families. This would mark the first full translations of the code.

“This document serves to provide a preventative approach and therapeutic response as we aim to keep students in the classroom and out of the juvenile justice system,” Superintendent Larry Spring wrote in an introductory letter to the code.

The revamped code of conduct lays out the district's guiding principles and underscores the district's shift in recent years to focus on handling student behavior in “restorative” and constructive ways rather than through punitive measures.

Andrea Tote-Freeman, district director of pupil personnel services and point person for the annual code of conduct review, called this year's revision a “new and improved code of conduct.”

“We looked at ways to make our code more of a teaching tool,” she said.

The revised code builds on conduct codes of recent years, maintaining much of the language focused on students rights and responsibilities and the district's broader approach to student behavior. But the new code also goes a step further, adding new sections and presenting the code in a more user-friendly design and format. The new code also comes with a video summary that breaks down key elements of the conduct code and features a wide variety of students, parents and staff.

The updated code, for example, includes a section called “shifts for rerouting the school-to-prison pipeline,” and outlines ways that adults can respond to certain student behaviors in an effort to avoid an escalation of negative behavior and punishment. If a student is verbally disrespectful, according to the new code, adults should avoid communicating that the are personally offended, responding emotionally, or connecting the behavior directly to the student's identity. (“That's another example of you making a bad choice,” is cited as an example of what not to say.) Instead, adults should respond in an even-tempered way to indicate to students that they won't take personally the students words. Adults should also make note of things that were “triggering” for the student and remember to avoid those in the future.

Tote-Freeman in a presentation of the revised code at Wednesday 's school board meeting said the update sought to eliminate behaviors and consequences that were overly subjective – a source of unequal consequences for students of different races – and remove language that mirrored language used in the penal system. Code of conduct “violations” were replaced by “infractions,” for example.

The board members appeared pleased with the updated code of conduct, which is posted to the district's website for a 30-day public comment period. Board member Bernice Rivera said she felt the updated code would better serve parents and students with questions about the disciplinary process in the school.

“There were things in place but many people didn't know,” Rivera said. “Now, it seems a lot of it is here.”

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