The battle over student behavior and discipline continued Monday in Akron Public Schools.
Teachers union president Pat Shipe objected to the Akron school board’s revisions to the code of student behavior that were approved unanimously during Monday's board meeting.
“The code the board adopted tonight was revised by them alone without AEA’s [Akron Education Association] negotiation,” Shipe said, adding that union members have consulted with their counsel and board and plan "to take action in the very near future.”
“We were very disappointed in the [school] board,” Shipe continued.
Shipe contends that the teachers union has the right to negotiate the code of student behavior with the board.
Ellen McWilliams-Woods, assistant superintendent of the district, however, said only three parts of the code are subject to negotiation during collective bargaining with the union: physical assault, verbal assault and repeat offenses. Teachers are in the middle of a retroactive three-year contract that was approved last year and expires June 30, 2019.
The changes made to the code of student behavior Monday night add descriptions of consequences for various levels of offenses including verbal and physical assault — details that were removed last year in an attempt to focus on positive behavior interventions instead of repercussions.
McWilliams-Woods said the consequences and interventions are detailed for each level of offense as a way to help students and families understand clearly recognize what's expected.
Another change involved the policy on verbal assault and abuse. Verbal assault, which includes threatening language, and verbal abuse, which is harsh or hurtful language, were previously lumped together.
The board voted to separate the two and give verbal abuse lesser consequences than verbal assault.
“We felt the two sections were such a broad range that they really needed to be separated out,” McWilliams-Woods said.
Shipe, however, does not agree with any of Monday's changes.
In addition to violating the union contract, Shipe said she believes the board has violated nearly every one of its terms outlined in a memorandum of understanding that was signed May 29 by district and union leaders following a teacher protest over student discipline.
In February, hundreds of educators gathered at a board meeting to protest 22 grievances that were filed by teachers and counselors last school year about the way the district handled disciplinary action for abusive students.
Shipe contends that the board has ignored nearly every one of its terms in the resulting memorandum of understanding, including not implementing “manifestation determination” meetings for its students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) who are disciplined and not training teachers on the protocol to do so.
Shipe said the union plans to address the violations “through every legal channel,” and she plans to share an “extensive press release” with more details by the end of the week.
Board president Patrick Bravo said he could not comment on the threats of legal action.
The board spent a large portion of the meeting discussing initiatives that have been put in place to address student discipline and behavior and the factors behind it.
Social-emotional learning has been a large focus of the district this year, especially in specific schools, like the I Promise School, which has a family resource center to provide extra support to students and their families.
Superintendent David James was absent Monday to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C., about school-justice partnerships and diversion pathways. The goal for James and other district leaders at the meeting is to develop systems in the community that address social and emotional needs for students and provide effective alternatives to suspension and expulsion.
Board member Tim Miller presented his regular update on the committee he oversees addressing what an ideal graduate should look like in terms of behavior and other soft skills. Miller said the committee, which formed following the teacher protests, has had discussions since it began and is in the beginning stages of designing the ideal “portrait of a graduate.”
During his seven years on the board, Bravo said, "I don’t think there’s been a year we’ve been more intentional or thoughtful or deliberate about addressing behavior and discipline.
“There is a middle ground somewhere … Maybe we’ll never get to a place where everyone’s happy, but we’ll get to a place where everyone feels safe.”
Theresa Cottom-Bennett can be reached at 330-996-3216 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.