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Suspension of young kids would be discouraged under new OPS code of conduct

Suspension of young kids would be discouraged under new OPS code of conduct

Under a revised student code of conduct, the Omaha Public Schools’ leaders would be advised that suspension is not appropriate for students in the early childhood program.

That’s just one of several proposed revisions to the code for the 2021-22 school year. The school board is scheduled to consider those changes at its Monday meeting.

Anne MacFarland, student and community services coordinator for OPS, recently told the board that the code communicates that the district has rules and expectations for learning environments and has responses when those expectations are violated.

The code lays out rationales and possible consequences for four levels of violations.

As with academic subjects, MacFarland said the goal is not to punish students for their misbehavior, but to teach and reteach desired outcomes.

That is why district officials have added guidance for how to address behaviors in early childhood programs, which are for prekindergartners, and made clear that suspension from school is not appropriate. Instead, officials say, the district’s early childhood coordinator should be contacted for additional resources.

The proposed wording also says suspensions should be avoided “whenever possible” among kindergartners.

District officials have also proposed adding a new violation of “exposure to bodily fluid” to the code. It includes spitting, throwing, wiping or otherwise dispersing bodily fluids on another person for any reason.

MacFarland said district officials have seen an increase in the number of incidents involving bodily fluids. She gave the example of a student spitting in a teacher’s water bottle, watching the teacher drink from the bottle and then posting a video of the incident on the internet.

In the proposed code, a violation labeled “youth gang apparel and behaviors” has been eliminated. MacFarland said that district officials felt that this violation was disproportionately targeting some students and that the district already has items in the code that cover threats, intimidation, inappropriate clothing and inappropriate language.

“We have other ways to address those behaviors than saying that it’s gang-related,” she said.

The district also previously employed a gang interventionist who had information about gang-related signs and behaviors. MacFarland said that the district no longer has that position but that it does have a collaborative relationship with the Omaha Police Department.

Sexual harassment is another violation added to the proposed code of conduct. It is defined in the code as “the unwelcome written, verbal, or physical conduct on the basis of sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive school environment.”

The tobacco violation in the code also has been revised to include vaping.

Board member Jane Erdenberger said at the last school board meeting that while she appreciates the “kinder and gentler” approach to the code, she thinks that the format of the code makes it difficult to follow.

“I also think it’s equally as important that everybody that uses this can figure out what they’re being told they can and can’t do,” she said.

Erdenberger said she would be emailing district staff some of her thoughts and edits.

MacFarland said district officials don’t want people to feel as if they’re on their own in figuring out the code. Instead, she said, it should be a resource for families.

The school board meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the district’s Teacher Administrative Center at 3215 Cuming St.

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Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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