by Steve Peterson
West Sioux School Board discussed with Grades 6-12 Principal Ryan Kramer how to change procedures of discipline for student-athletes and extracurricular participants in light of a drinking party over Labor Day weekend in rural Ireton. Several students and recent graduates of West Sioux were disciplined, some losing participation time.
In the new policy, an appeal process is refined that relies more on investigation of school officials as opposed to law enforcement actions, said Kramer. It also seeks to improve the behavior of students at extracurricular activities that are non-athletic but represent West Sioux. In the new policy, those who appeal an administrative decision would be ineligible, a change from the current rules.
Further discussion will be held on Kramer’s policy changes at the Nov. 19 school board meeting,
The school handbook, if the policy is approved, would be changed going forward this school year and students would be notified of the change.
“The major design of the component was talking to the school attorney, Steve Avery,” said Kramer at the Oct. 15 board meeting. “I had talked to him about the processes that I have seen in other districts and what I would like to envision for expectations of students.”
“One of the questions I have often been asked is what about students who aren’t specifically in athletic programs but are still involved in activities as they represent West Sioux and how to have that highest bar set within and outside of school and how they conduct themselves,” said Kramer.
“They are breaking a criminal law because they are in a disorderly house, which is a citation issued by a police officer, or in possession of alcohol at that time,” said Kramer.
“The way it is written now (in the proposed new policy). it takes the court system and officer out of the picture and does not require (students) to be cited,” he said. “What is required (in the proposed policy) is that in talks with the police department, they have not individually cited those attending parties for being there, but that does not mean in the future that would not be done by Hawarden Police Department because they are engaging in criminal activities being in a disorderly house, where underage drinking is taking place.”
“We could say that it is a criminal act,” said Kramer. “It’s up to you as a board to approve it and it is my job to enforce that policy.”
“I’ve had one conversation with a parent who said we should not punish students who are attending parties as a designated driver, where underage drinking is taking place,” he said. “My philosophy on that is different. I do not want to have kids around a party. I know the designated driver action is something that has been utilized in the past. But teenagers have cell phones, ability to call for a ride home. My hope is that we build a system in which if they’re not able to hang out with their friends because they are afraid of getting caught, then their choice would be that they don’t behave in underage drinking and that has happened in the past.”
“People say ‘kids will always drink’ but there were parties all the time in that there was no drinking (in the past),” said Kramer. “A large group of kids who made a decision not to drink.”
“I want to get to the point where a majority of kids are making the choice it is OK not to drink,” he said. “I’m worried about what happens at those parties where the kids engage in illegal activities. The danger for accidents to happen when alcohol is involved increases dramatically. The likelihood that a kid who is a designated driver is killed goes up.”
“If I can make that choice for one kid whether they drink or not ,” said Kramer, “and they can be with their friends and make it social, whether they hang out with their friends or not, I want them to make the choice, ‘you know what, I can choose not to do this.’”
Old vs. New Handbook
“If a student attended a party in Sioux City and underage drinking occurred, they were at this party, and they were not drinking but were found guilty or referred to juvenile court services for being at a disorderly house, they would be in violation of the Good Conduct Policy and have consequences of eligibility today,” said Kramer. “If they attended a party in another community when the officers did not write out citations for students who did not drink but attended, they would not be in violation of the Good Conduct Policy.”
“Within the new policy, the students would be in a criminal violation attending a party where underage drinking is occurring. They would be in violation of a first offense, determined by the administration or through an investigation where interviews would take place or through self-admitting,” said Kramer.
“If a student chooses to lie, or make false claims and it is found out, they would take the second offense,” said Kramer.
Board members’ comments
“Does the voluntary option to turn oneself in- is that just for alcohol or for any other offense,” said Board President Susan Sharpe. “My concern is the investigator actions. I would think there should be more substantial evidence than another child ‘ratting’ out on another. You would have something you could prove. I am afraid we are encouraging children to rat on other children or lie. Kids will think they can get out of it, regardless of what is written. A citation or being found guilty is more black-and-white.”
“There have been times when we have had a citation or it has come through social media,” said Kramer. “Through my investigation of past incidents, I felt comfortable. There may have been inconsistencies. There would not be the burden of proof of the judicial expectations. Administration can feel comfortable with that.”
“The challenge of a citation is that if waited for those, we take ourselves out of it,” he said. “I hesitate to require a citation. It does make it easier for me but it makes it harder to defend.”
The new policy would involve an appeal process by the student to other administrative team members, the superintendent and possibly to the school board.
Sharpe asked the case of a student with alibis.
“It’s through the interview process that I can say there is a burden of proof,” said Kramer. “It tries to be timely and efficient as possible. We want to have these situations resolved. It would add the other principal and activities director, and within 24 hours, then to the superintendent, and it could happen within a short window (of time).”
“What if they missed one event.” said Sharpe.
“We can have all the steps within that week,” said Kramer.
“I think we should also have a part in it for community service and that students should be able to be with the team or activity,” said Sharpe. “We’re removing them from the very things that keep them busy.”
“We should make a determination as quickly as we possibly can to honor the student and those events,” said Kramer. “We owe that to any student.”
“The legal system is designed to be drawn out but that does not fit into our system in which we like things resolved and conflict gone,” said Kramer.
Board Member Jeff Eilts asked about a violation at the end of the season.
“If a student loses one game, one-eighth of a season, then you take that percentage for the next season,” said Kramer.
To get credit for a sport, students will have to finish in good standing and not quit after a suspension, said Kramer.
School Board Member Dawn Hummel asked about the instance of a requested ride home.
“If we can confirm that is the case, it is not automatically a first offense. A kid can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the right thing. It still will be confirmed,” said Kramer.
The Student Council may be asked for their views.
“My plan for implementation of this would be whenever we approve this,” said Kramer.
“It will take a matter of time how we see this play out in actual practice,” said Sharpe.
“It might act as a deterrent,” said Hummel. “Kids will think, ‘if I go out there and don’t drink, I’m in trouble.’”