Student Handbooks

As a recent volunteer for the Mooresville Graded School District, I was required to watch a brief presentation concerning what to/what not to do when interacting with students, and I was given a copy of the 2021-2022 Student Code of Conduct to read.

Because I had spent many years as the administrator in various independent schools responsible for the revision of student handbooks, I was eager to read the MGSD one. That may sound like dull reading to the uninformed, but during my years as an educator I have learned that  a student handbook is a window into a school or school system. I was not disappointed in my reading of the MGSD handbook, but I was saddened and disappointed.

The independent schools in which I worked and supervised the yearly revision of student handbooks were smaller than MGSD so the handbooks for them were smaller but shared the same objective: Inform students and parents, in a clear way, the expectations for students and consequences if expectations are not followed. The MGSD handbook does that well, and then some, which is an example of how we now require so much non-educational work of our schools.

The MGSD handbook is a 48-page 8.5 x 11-inch booklet with 4 inserted pages and covers all three school divisions for its  6,074 students, parents, and guardians. The expectations for students cover such anticipated areas for an educational institution as: Dress code, fighting, attendance, bus behavior, role of teachers and administrators, and other areas of the life in an educational setting. But an educational institution in today’s world must go further and include rules concerning: Extortion, gambling, violations of state criminal statutes, assault or threats against adults,  possession of dangerous weapons, and other issues of our modern world that have invaded our schools. That invasion demands non-educational work of our schools.

Any HR person will tell you that clearly stated expectations and consequences for behavior make a work place better, and schools are workplaces which owe such clear statements to their teachers, students, parents, guardians, and administrators. But in reading the MGSD handbook, I was saddened to read 48 pages that has much which should, in my view, be handled by families, law enforcement, social workers, judges, or other institutions of our culture. Yet, because a school system must protect itself against the very other institutions it serves, it is forced to include such topics as homicide (page 34) in its student handbook.

It seems to this retired educator that our public schools are burdened with too many requirements placed on them from people outside of education, such as the politicians who take every chance to use any act by a teacher or school administrator to “whip-up” a base. This week I saw an article where non-educators were questioning the practice of withholding recess as a motivating tool for some classrooms. I fear that soon some state legislator will sponsor a bill that all children must be given recess for prescribed times or the opposite is possible—sponsor a bill that deems recess a waste of taxpayer funds. You get the point. After all, why spend funds on all that expensive equipment?

But this is where we are: A relatively small school district like the MGSD must publish each year a 48 page plus handbook of student conduct. Since some factors change often, such as school hours or dress styles, a handbook needs to be revised each year. That is difficult enough and much like playing the Wack-A-Mole game. However, when so many topics like homicide need to be included, in order to protect the schools from its constituents, it is a sad day for our public schools.

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