Vandalism and suspensions at UHS

Vandalism of Unionville High School restrooms and suspension of students fueled discussion during the May 21 meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board.

The subject came up during public comment and continued later with directors’ comments, and a point of possible disagreement arose between Director Gregg Lindner and Superintendent of Schools John Sanville.

During public discussion, two parents said there was a problem with students trying to use bathrooms because they were locked, something that caused the student’s distress. One said a student missed a playoff game because had been suspended after breaking a bathroom door latch trying to get in.

"We have had rash of vandalism in our bathrooms," Sanville said, "from stuffing toilets to cause flooding to ripping toilets out of the ground, to ripping sinks out of the walls…We have closed bathrooms that have been rendered unusable because of those things. These are all serious events, disheartening events…When we look at our discipline code, vandalism is there. Vandalism is a suspend-able offense."

He added that while there are often discussions pertaining to suspensions, very few students are actually suspended, less than 1 percent of the student body.

When considering a student for suspension, he said, due process is followed, and "all avenues are explored. It’s not done willy-nilly; it’s not done with malice, but rather with the intent that it is meant, which is a learning experience…Even good kids make mistakes and there should be consequences for those mistakes."

Sanville also said revising the student code is something the board would consider.

Following those comments, Lindner said, "I find there’s a difference in our interpretation of due process. I believe there needs to be a process of discussion, except in certain circumstances, before suspensions are applied. I want to be clear that there is a difference of opinion about what due process means."

Lindner earlier said that he has repeatedly asked for a change to the suspension policy that would allow appeals before a student is suspended, except in a case of violence.

"I believe that’s a direction we should go. The other part of this is that I believe we should suspend the suspensions until we have a new policy in place. That may be the only way to get this board to move quickly and change our policy…I’ve had enough of what’s occurred. I want it to change," Lindner said.

Other directors also commented.

Vic Dupuis, the board’s vice president, said he thinks the problem is really one of miscommunication. "We're mixing events and circumstances and implications that are not necessarily directly connected. For instance, I would suggest that when Dr. Sanville is talking about vandalism, he's talking about somebody who has ripped sinks off the bathroom wall, ripped out toilets, ripped pipes out of a bathroom. That is vandalism. This is a matter of getting together with the students and the community and having a conversation about this. The board will do our job of working on the legislative side of things and fixing the code of student conduct."

Director Robert Sage brought up the issue of student rights, saying "Students do not enjoy the same full First Amendment privileges as we do, interacting with our government as adults. The courts have done that because the state has an interest in maintaining an orderly environment in the schools, so all kids can learn and there aren't protests in the hallways all day long. It behooves all of us, as we talk about due process, to recognize that what we know from civics class and the Constitution is not exactly what our kids have in schools. But, I do think that looking at the discipline policy is something the board should do quickly."

Later in the evening, Wes Saunders, a student at UHS, said students learned through an email that they would be limited to using two bathrooms.

"It seems like that was the right action to take, however, the execution was questionable. The original email was sent directly to all 1,400 students and the administration. That means anyone can respond. The entire day, my email and teachers' emails were flooded with hundreds of messages. We had students sending the entire Declaration of Independence. The entire day of education was wasted," he said.

Saunders added that there’s an attitude problem among the student body, that students are frustrated with the administration. "A lot of students don't want to be present at this school in the state that it's in. They mock it, they disrespect teachers, administrators and their peers. The communication isn't there to inform students, and perception is being severely harmed."

Some students even contacted television news regarding the situation, he said.

Other business

The board unanimously voted to approve Jessica Knier as the new assistant principal at Patton Middle School, at a salary of $115,000.




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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.



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