Student Code Of Conduct Debated

OSWEGO, NY – When is defense considered offensive?

That is what the Oswego School Board wrestled with this week as it reviewed the district’s code of conduct for students.

The Code of Conduct Committee reported to the board of education regarding its review of the student and student athlete codes.

The code is listed on the district’s web site.

Student athletes are held to a higher standard.

Neither code needs to be amended currently, according to the district’s business manager Peter Colucci, the committee chair.

There is some clarification regarding the athletes’ code, however.

Student athletes are held to a higher standard regarding the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Use of these substances result in a 21-day suspension.

Consequences for infractions, such as fighting, are covered in the students’ code.

Currently, the policy states that any student who strikes someone else (on school property) will be subject to consequences.

Members of the committee all agreed that no one should be allowed to strike another person for any reason, Colucci noted.

Board members Fran Hoefer, John Dunsmoor and Dave White argued that a student shouldn’t be penalized for defending himself (or herself) or coming to the aid of another.

“I told my kids don’t start it. But, defend yourself,” White said. “What we’re saying here is if someone starts pounding on you, don’t hit them back?”

“If they do so, then a consequence would occur,” explained Bill Crist, superintendent.

“If you’re defending yourself, why should you have to suffer a consequence?” White wanted to know.

“If students are allowed to fight back, that will just encourage more fighting,” Sarah Miller, the student representative on the board, pointed out. “You’ll have students picking fights, and then saying they were just defending themselves.”

Board member Tom DeCastro agreed.

“I told my son he’s got to stick up for himself. But he knows, from me, that there’s consequences for that,” Colucci said. “I’m not going to judge him on right or wrong. But, there’s consequences for that. If you violate rules, there are consequences for that.”

“No one should have to stand there and say gee, if I defend myself I am going to get punished and get their brains beat out. It just isn’t right,” White argued. “If you get attacked, you have a right to defend yourself.”

If someone doesn’t defend themselves, they could be seriously hurt, Dunsmoor pointed out.

“If you defended yourself, you should probably get a pat on the back,” he added.

“If you open this up, the kids that go around starting fights are going to become agitators,” DeCastro warned. “They’re going to agitate a kid they don’t like until he swings and then they’re going to turn around and beat their brains out. And we’re going to let them get away with that because they are defending themselves?”

“Beating your brains out and defending yourself are two different things,” Dunsmoor said.

“Well, where does it stop?” DeCastro wondered.

“When you know you’ve got a kid that’s not going to threaten you anymore,” Dunsmoor replied. “If you don’t defend yourself, you’re going to have a lot of kids picking on you.”

Patricia Oughterson, the new principal of OHS, grew up in Oswego but went away for 30 years; at a school district “three times the size of this one.”

“There are two ways of protecting yourself, offensively and defensively,” she said. “Once you go into that offense position, you put yourself into that potentially criminal position.”

At her former school there was an understanding of the entire student body that they were all held to the same standard.

“Today is my 24th day as your new principal at the high school,” she said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “I have thus far long-term suspended the initiators of violent assaults of other students six in 24 days. There is a loud and clear message that you don’t commit acts of violence on my campus.”

“Do you remember the Golden Rule? That’s what we all grew up with. That’s what we need to go back to,” she added. “All kids are good kids. Do some make bad choices? You bet. They’re kids.”

Kids should be taught to block, hold, run, scream as part of self defense, she said, adding, “The minute you take that offensive punch, you’re just as guilty as the other person.”

“You’re assuming we must change the code of conduct because we have the need to allow students to defend themselves. You’re assuming that the trust you have put into building administrators and guidance counselors and your leadership, and the faith and trust you’re putting in the personnel in your buildings is not working,” added Bonnie Finnerty, OMS principal. “I would argue that your middle school is absolutely not a place where we need to teach students defensive posturing or have any change in code of conduct.”

“When you teach students what is appropriate; when you model what is appropriate, show them the expectations and when you hold them accountable for not meeting those expectations that’s how you change the culture of your building. Not by changing the words in the code of conduct to allow for defensive measures,” she continued.

Violent incidents in the school is declining, she pointed out.

Reports consistently show fewer and fewer violent and disruptive incidents each and every year, Colucci confirmed.

“I’m proud and not proud at the same time that six of our students are long-term suspended,” Oughterson said. “It sends a clear message. The word is out; you don’t fight, you don’t bring violence on our campuses. Bonnie and I operate on the same wave length as far as that goes.”

“You don’t suspend (students) for reasonable use of force,” Hoefer interjected.

“What is reasonable? Teen-agers are most unreasonable when they’re in a scary situation,” Oughterson said.

OHS teacher Josh DeLorenzo addressed the board prior to the regular agenda.

“The initiatives that have been started at the Oswego High School this year have gone very, very well,” he said. “That is partially due to the administration’s support, the board of education’s support, the teachers and the faculty and students’ support within the building.”

He was also concerned about the code of conduct for students and student athletes and potential changes for the code.

He encouraged the board not to do anything that erodes expectations for students, whether they are athletes or not.

“We don’t send ordinary students out on the athletic field with the name of our school emblazoned across their chests. We don’t send them out into the community, other communities, to represent us as a district, as a community,” he said.

“Yes, we might heap extra praise on those kids. We might hold pep rallies for them. Those are some of my top students,” he continued. “Those are some of the kids that are the leaders of our community. We put them at a higher level of expectations than we do other students.”

If the board was considering changing the code for the student athletes, they should change it for all students as well, he said.

“Go back to the honor code; I will not cheat, I will not lie, I will not steal. Put your name to it, sign it, every student in the building,” he said.

Since the start of this school year, with the higher expectations for OHS students, DeLorenzo said support staff have told him they are cleaning up less mess.

“That’s going to save us money. We’re not going to work extra hours and have as much overtime at the end of the year for those people, and that’s going to save us money because those rules have worked. I bet our vandalism rates are down. If it comes to be June and the initiatives that we’ve put into place at the high school are still in place and fully supported by this board of education that we’d save thousands of dollars in repairs for that building. That’s an investment,” he said.

He also noted that Saturday detention would go a long way in reforming the behavior of many students.