The leaders of Wright City R-II School District are considering major changes to how they correct students’ bad behavior, with an emphasis on understanding and addressing the root cause of …
The leaders of Wright City R-II School District are considering major changes to how they correct students’ bad behavior, with an emphasis on understanding and addressing the root cause of problems rather than simply issuing punishments.
For four months beginning in late 2021, a committee of students, parents, teachers, school staff, principals and administrators met to review school discipline policies and examine whether improvements are needed. Assistant Superintendent Doug Smith, the district’s head of curriculum and instruction, said an early step was to ask how the policies have been applied to challenging real-life situations that have happened in the schools.
The committee quickly found that disciplinary actions were ignoring and failing to address the circumstances that led to bad behaviors, Smith said. That’s why the group is now asking the Wright City R-II School Board to approve a number of discipline policy reforms, which Smith presented during the board’s Feb. 17 public meeting.
“The old policy was more aligned to punishing students, rather than educating them. It was blind consequences for certain behavior, rather than helping teach kids how to regulate themselves,” Smith said.
He outlined several categories of reforms that the committee is recommending to the district:
• Separate discipline policies into four different age groups, with consequences that are adjusted to recognize differences in age and maturity.
• Allow a set range of penalties for different violations, which can be applied or adjusted based on individual circumstances.
• Employ ‘restorative practices’ designed to resolve conflicts between students and prevent future conflict incidents.
• Allow opportunities for reduced punishment if students participate in counseling or learning activities to understand why their behavior was wrong.
The one area where the committee would retain harsher penalties is for school safety violations, Smith said. Repeat violations would also result in stiffer penalties.
Austin Jones, president of the school board, asked whether the new policy’s flexibility in consequences for different students would cause complaints of unfairness. Smith replied that principals would strive to be consistent in how they treat similar circumstances, and that any deviation would be required to be well documented for review.
Board member Alice Jensen, who also served on the committee reviewing the policies, said she sees the flexibility in disciplinary action as both a strength and a risk.
“That flexibility could also be a scary weakness, in the sense of not treating everybody with the exact same consequence,” Jensen said. “I think the administrators will have to be very careful ... in their explanation of why they’re using certain restorative practices.”
Smith replied that the district’s principals, all of whom served on the policy committee, are all well aware of the challenge in balancing fairness and flexibility.
“They felt like that challenge was worth the ability to work with kids and help them,” Smith said.
Superintended Chris Berger said the ultimate goal of the policy changes aren’t to make things easier on students who exhibit bad behavior. Rather, they’re aimed at eliminating the behavior while allowing students to re-engage with their education as smoothly as possible. Berger said the policy change would be particularly effective if it can reduce severe disruptions such as suspensions, while still preventing repeat offenses.
“We have an obligation to educate that student, but more often than not, there’s not a lot of education going on during (suspension),” Berger commented.
The school board has so far reviewed and approved the policy changes during a first reading. A second reading is scheduled for the board’s March 17 meeting, and a third reading will be held at a later date to potentially give final approval to the policy.
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