Across each district monthly school board meetings are held to discuss different issues within the community and schools. The school board members discuss items such as budget, employee contracts, academic services, school choice, teacher and student conduct, etc. Locally elected school board members are responsible for discussing and voting towards the decisions that impact educators, students, and our community.
I feel that it important for community members to attend school board meetings because during these meetings parents teachers, and other community members are provided with an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns on topics. I was able to watch my districts school board meeting for the month of August and a few topics that were discussed include school name changes, discipline, student code of conduct, etc. The different topics discussed in the August meeting had political ramifications that can and are affecting our schools and community.
Although many political topics were discussed I was amazed at the depth of discussion amongst school board members on changing the language of self-defense in the student code of conduct. This political topic is one that I would like to focus on because this is one that seems to be silently debated about in my community. School Board members were voting on changing the language in the student code of conduct when discussing self-defense. The previous Code of conduct stated “Self-defense is described as an action to block an attack by another person or to shield yourself from being hit by another person”(Student Information, n. . , p. 15).
The new changes proposed were to include “reasonable force to stop the attacker”. The Board was split on the decision to add these changes. Prior to learning about politics in education I would never have viewed this as being a political issue, yet it is. This issue hit close to home for me because growing up I was never a problem child and never needed discipline (in school suspension, out of school suspension, referrals, etc) in school. There was an instance when I was verbally and physically attacked and as I was raised I used reasonable force to stop my attacker.
After administration collected the stories about what happened my attacker and myself were suspended for five days. My parents were very upset because I used self-defense to protect myself yet I was still suspended. Therefore a hearing was held to review the situation. The principal and administration pulled out the student code of conduct and shared the self-defense definition, and like most parents mine signed it at the beginning of the school year without reading it.
My parents argued that if I were to only block and shield myself from an attacker the situation could have potentially been worse and my attacker would have felt like they could attack again. The claims and arguments that were voiced in my situation were also brought up at the Duval County School board meeting. Some board members felt reasonable force should be added while others argued that reasonable force is a general term. During the meeting the board members discussed what would be defined as reasonable force and it was agreed upon that it was up to the discretion of the principal/administration.
Having the grey area of what is deemed as “reasonable” is where it seemed most members found their concern. It was also mentioned that the goal is to teach our students how to handle conflict without having to use any physical behavior. Proposed methods for students who feel threatened would be to reach out to teachers, parents, or the bully hotline. Other concerns that I have with this option would be what if it is too late to reach out for help and the students have already become physical. A board member mentioned when students are not in chool they are able to use reasonable force, but under the student code of conduct they are not allowed to in school and this did not seem rational.
The Board voted on changing the language of self-defense in the student code of conduct and it was stuck down with a 3-4 vote. Changing the language of self-defense in the student code of conduct is a political issue for many reasons, some previously listed. Like my parents some parents raise their children to defend themselves using self-defense. In common law selfdefense permits people to take reasonable action to defend themselves against an attacker.
With the current definition of self-defense student’s rights that were given to them under law are being revoked when they are on the schools campus. This could cause many parents, educators, students, and community members to become upset because their rights are being violated and they are now missing school due to defending and protecting themselves. As an educator I understand the stance of wanting to teach our students appropriately address situations without physical force, but as a future mother I understand there situations when students need to use reasonable force for self-defense.
I would be upset if my child were to come home and say they were attacked and did nothing to defend them-selves, although I raised them to use self-defense. “Sometimes decisions are not made in the best interest of the children but rather are those that upset the fewest number of vocal stakeholders” (Lindle, n. d. , p. 63). With that being said although it was changing the language of self-defense did not pass I believe this issue needs to be further discussed to provide students with their rights and a clear definition for “reasonable” force.