HUDSON– Controversy over a new district Code of Conduct, fueled by the issue of school staff members petitioning Family Court to declare certain students Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS), erupted at the Hudson City School District Board of Education meeting Monday, July 15.
The issue arose during the public comment segment of the meeting, after Quintin Cross of the Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center read a letter addressed to the board asking members to “pass a resolution stating that all requests for PINS petitions… by district employees be reviewed by the board” before submission to the court.
Board President Kelly Frank suggested directing such requests to the superintendent, but an audience member said that the public had elected the board and not the superintendent and that the board represented the citizens.
The district’s current Code of Conduct, last revised in August 2012, says that the district may file a PINS petition in Family Court for any student under 18 who demonstrates that he or she requires supervision and treatment by “habitual” truancy, conduct and behavior problems, or marijuana violations.
Speakers from the public said that some students become subject to such petitions through hearsay.
The code mentions PINS under the heading “Resource Referrals—Non-Disciplinary,” but subjects of PINS petitions may face confinement in a juvenile detention facility or probation. Stundents designated PINS undergo a court hearing and that may affect their reputation. From the audience videography teacher Dan Udell spoke of working with students subject to PINS petitions, saying the students found it a devastating experience.
“The school to prison pipeline is… a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems,” said Mr. Cross in the letter he read. “Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends.”
Referring to recent drops in Hudson High School graduation rates, the letter from the Keith Center said, “When enforcing zero tolerance policies… that push students out of classrooms and suspend them from schools, it is ridiculous to expect them to be ready…to graduate.”
Both Superintendent Maria Suttmeier and Board President Kelly Frank have given top priority to raising Hudson High School’s graduation rate.
State law requires the board vote to approve the conduct annually for the coming year. Ms. Frank said the board found the current code so flawed that it needed changing “immediately.” Drafting the new code began in November 2012. Much of the work fell on board member Jeri Chapman, who spent long hours on it.
At the July 15 meeting, the proposed new code had its fourth reading, but members were unable to resolve contentious points and decided to hold a second public forum at the end of the meeting. Most of the audience stayed through the three-hour session, but by the end of the evening Ms. Chapman suggested postponing a vote on the code until it can be reviewed by an educational expert. “It’s been under revision all year. It is commensurate with other districts’ codes. If it still needs changes, we need to contract it out,” Ms. Chapman said.
Objections to and concerns about the proposed code raised by board and audience members include:
•Aspects of PINS petitions some find unacceptable
•Circumstances surrounding student searches. Many participants objected to the fact that these can be done without informing students of their Miranda rights and without first informing students’ parents
•The possibility the district may request drug-sniffing dogs in schools. Many community members had not been aware of this provision until that night, when the board discussed it. One board member said, “If you want to make school like a prison, bring in a drug dog” and suggested that the dogs also sniff the school staff.
The meeting also contained an outpouring of support for special education teacher Beverly Hayles, who has just completed her third year with the district. She had received letters recommending tenure from the principal, the special education director and the superintendent. The board had previously tabled its decision on Ms. Hayles pending more information.
At the meeting several people who spoke in favor of Ms. Hayles receiving tenure gave examples of students she had helped, including the story of a boy who, while under her tutelage, finally learned to read. Others mentioned her African ancestry, saying the school needs staff that reflect the student-body diversity, with her supporters including whites as well as African-Americans.
One audience member said that Ms. Hayles “touches the heart of the students.”
When Ms. Hayles spoke, she thanked the people who supported her, adding, “I have a mission. My mission is to save children.”
The board granted her tenure.