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OPS board approves revisions to student code of conduct for 2022-23 school year

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The Omaha Public Schools will have a revised student code of conduct for the upcoming school year, complete with amended glossary terms, the addition of social emotional learning and use of gender neutral language.

OPS board members approved the new code Monday after presenting the changes over the course of two public meetings.

The student code of conduct lays out the district’s positions and consequences for infractions such as fighting, drug possession, vandalism and bullying.

In the revised code, students might not be able to say they were defending themselves as a reason why they were involved in a serious fight.

A serious fight includes mutual physical combat between at least two students that causes injury or a large disruption, depending on how many people are involved. Consequences include actions like a short-term suspension, mandatory school reassignment or expulsion.

OPS officials said the change was made because the claim a student was defending themselves has been used often and the district wanted to make sure students realize self-defense might not be a valid excuse for fighting.

The updated language sparked some discussion at the April 18 meeting after board member Spencer Head said people have been reaching out to the school board about it.

Board member Nick Thielen said students can still claim they were involved in a fight because they were defending themselves, but it will be up to the district to investigate and determine if that’s true.

He said the addition of the self-defense line was to help set expectations for students and families.

“Just because you didn’t throw the first punch, doesn’t mean you weren’t involved in the fight,” Thielen said at the April 18 meeting.

Brianna Full, a candidate for the OPS board in Subdistrict 2, said she was concerned after reading the updated language because she fears a student who is genuinely defending themselves in a fight could get suspended or expelled from school.

“This worries me because of the disproportionate rates of discipline among our students of color, low-income students and students with learning disabilities,” Full said. “I simply believe that this may have negative implications on students who are only trying to protect themselves.”

Board member Margo Juarez asked at the April 18 meeting if district officials will analyze any possible results of the code revision, such as an increase in expulsions, to see if more changes are needed.

Anne MacFarland, student and community services coordinator for OPS, said the district “will continue to monitor that.”

Other revisions include the use of gender neutral language.

At the April 18 meeting, Full asked the district to remove binary language, such as the terms “himself” or “herself.” The new 2022-23 draft that was approved Monday removed the terms and replaced them with terms like “themself.”

“I know that there are trans and nonbinary students in OPS because I’ve met and talked to several of them,” Full said. “They deserve to be represented in school materials just as much as cisgender students.”

All nine board members voted to approve the new code.

lwagner@owh.com; 402-444-1128; Twitter: @LaurenWReports

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