by Steve Peterson
West Sioux School Board approved the Grades 6-12 Eligibility/Good Conduct policy suggested by Middle School and High School Principal Ryan Kramer.
In the new policy, an appeal process is refined and relies more on investigation of school officials as opposed to law enforcement actions. It also seeks to improve the behavior of students at extracurricular activities that are non-athletic but represent West Sioux.
The West Sioux School Board approved the policy by a 5-0 vote at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Kramer had met with West Sioux High School Student Council representatives about the policy and reported he had a very good conversation. The new policy will be presented to the student body soon.
“There were lots of questions from the Student Council as to how it applied to certain situations,” said Kramer. “I told them the thought process for the change, the specifics of why the change and what it will look like in the future.”
“It was a great conversation,” he said. “I was very impressed with our Student Council and the knowledge and questions they had.”
“The Student Council did ask if I get a call from a friend asking for a ride from a party where unlawful activities are occurring, if I am just there to pick them up, am I guilty by association,” said Kramer. “The answer to that is no. If you are just there to pick someone up with the purpose of doing that, you pick them up and then you leave. If you are there and you stay longer than the purpose of going there, yes, you are guilty.”
“They talked about whether being at a party with unlawful activities is enforced or not. It is different. It is just like a speeding ticket. The officer has a right to say, ‘I’m going to give you a warning at this time. At no time is there a police department philosophy that is actually communicated in Hawarden, Ireton or another community nearby. If you are not drinking underage or not doing anything illegal, they won’t charge you. There is no policy for that,” said Kramer.
“The entire student body will have an opportunity to ask questions,” he said.
“It does not reach back to prior events,” said Kramer.
Students will be required to attend an informational session on the student conduct policy.
“We had informational meetings at the beginning of the year to set expectations and largely I think those expectations were followed. That was the biggest advantage we had at the start of the school year. They knew about the expectations.
“There was one written response asking for public comment,” said Kramer. They wanted to see a change made to current policy — no specifics related to the current policy but wanted some things changed.
A community service hours option was rejected on the advice of school attorney Steve Avery.
“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,” said Kramer at the Oct. 15 school board meeting. “Within and outside of school and how they conduct themselves.”
“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 (as of the Oct 15 board meeting) it takes the court system and officer out of the picture and does not require the students to be cited,” explained Kramer. “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 it 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, it’s up to you as a board to approve it and it is my job to enforce that policy,” he said. “I’ve had one conversation with a parent, a good conversation, who said we should not punish students who are attending parties as a designated driver where underage drinking is taking place.”
“My philosophy on that is different,” said Kramer. “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, the 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,” 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.”
“I’m worried about what happens at those parties where the kids engage in illegal activities,” he said. “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 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’,” said Kramer.
Old vs. new handbook
“If a student attended a party in Sioux City, and underage drinking occurred and they were not drinking, they were found guilty, or referred to juvenile court services for being at a disorderly house,” he said. “They would be in violation of the Good Conduct Policy and have consequences of eligibility today.”
“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,” said Kramer.
“Within the new policy, the students would be in a criminal violation if attending a party where underage drinking is occurring,” he said. “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.”
“If a student chooses to lie, or make false claims and it is found out, they would take the second offense,” said Kramer.
“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’s 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 to 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 but 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,” he said. “We want to have these situations resolved. It would add the other principal, activities director, and within 24 hours, then to the superintendent, and it could happen within a short window.”
“What if they missed one event.” said Sharpe.
“We can have all the steps within that week,” said Kramer.