School board revises good conduct policy

Policy is purposely “gray” to allow for appeals

A Greene County student who commits a serious violation of the district’s activity eligibility/good conduct policy could be ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities for a year or longer.

The Greene County board of education at its regular meeting Jan. 20 approved the second reading of a revised policy that gives the superintendent of schools or a designated person the authority to levy “a more substantial penalty depending on the severity of the underlying violation.”

The board approved the first reading last month. At Wednesday’s meeting, after nearly 30 minutes of discussion, the board made the policy even tougher.

The policy has always called for penalties without a student being found guilty of an offense, defining as a violation “any act that would be grounds for arrest or citation in the criminal or juvenile court system (excluding minor offenses such as traffic or hunting/fishing violations), regardless of whether the student was cited, arrested, convicted or adjudicated for the act(s).”

The December revision added that a student found guilty of a serious criminal offense/felony may be declared ineligible for an additional period of time determined by the superintendent.

Added at the January reading was a requirement that the minimum period of ineligibility will be one year from the date of conviction.

Board member John McConnell suggested the policy be more specific than the December version, saying that the superintendent “has enough to do without figuring out what the penalty should be.”

Board member Sam Harding favored a flexible policy without stating a definite duration of the ineligibility, saying that there is no way to know all situations that might come up. “What got us to where the policy didn’t function like we wanted it to was that it was too black and white. It didn’t fit the situation…. Are all felonies alike? I don’t know… That’s what got us where we are. We had a set penalty that didn’t fit the situation we wanted it to,” Harding said.

The policy was revised after a high profile basketball player joined the football team after the season began and served a period of ineligibility that was the result of a charge against him of sexual assault-third degree, a class D felony. The student was then eligible to play at the start of the basketball season.

The school’s legal counsel advised that the policy as it was written at the time had been followed.

Board member David Ohrt agreed with Harding. “I think the black and white painted us into a corner,” Ohrt said. “The policy was followed but it wasn’t helpful. It’s a lot more uncomfortable to have gray areas, but in some situations it’s necessary.” He used the efforts to change laws regarding mandatory sentencing in the judicial system as a broader example of the result of inflexible “black and white” policies.

The appeal process was discussed, and it was the ability of parents of a student to appeal the superintendent’s decision to the board that created a comfort zone in which the board could approve the revision giving the superintendent the authority and naming a minimum.

“We have to trust that seven rational people here that can take that appeal and look at it. They can remove themselves from the situation and look at it,” board member Mark Peters said.

Board president Teresa Hagen said there is more of an appeal process available if the superintendent makes the decision. “I think if we have it in black and white that if you’re charged with a felony, you’re done, then they can appeal, but they’re appealing a policy we have in place,” she said. With a more flexible policy, an appeal could be made based on the penalty, not the policy itself. “I believe they can appeal a gray area,” she said.

The board approved the second reading of the revised policy, putting it into effect as of that date.

Superintendent Tim Christensen was quoted by another news source in December as saying he wasn’t sure if policy revisions could be retroactively applied to a student who had already been punished. He said Thursday it would not be appropriate for him to comment on a case that has not reached resolution.

The felony charge against the basketball player, who was 16 at the time, was initiated in district court but waived back to juvenile court last month. A hearing in the case was scheduled for late January but will be rescheduled for early March at the request of the student’s attorney.

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