Guides for student conduct in Huntsville get reboot before school year begins

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Friday the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education voted to amend the Behavioral Learning Guide to incorporate some new additions, and reformat it.

Before, the school system offered two versions: a secondary and an elementary guide.

Now, the school system will have just one Behavioral Learning Guide, with an elementary and secondary matrix to use with it.

Click this link to take a look.

"It's much smaller, it's to the point. It's very direct and it's easier to understand," said Christie Finley, Deputy Superintendent of Strategy and Innovation. "The teachers will actually have hard copies of these matrices based on if they are elementary or secondary schools. They can go to that offense, they can look at the consequence, and enter their data into BLOOM."

Leaders say through lots of feedback from parents, principals, teachers and more, they were able to figure out what the BLG was missing in its earlier version.

Comments included that the documents were too long, there were too many examples, that the teachers needed clarity about when to move up a level on the offenses, and that some behaviors needed to be reclassified in the document.

School administrators want people to know they were heard.

"It really comes down to that everybody needs to have a piece of this so we can make it the best we can," said Finley.

So in the new version, there were fewer long paragraphs, more charts and tables, and there will be hard copies of matrices for teachers.

Some other additions include a restorative panel meeting, which takes place on the district-level and is used as an opportunity to create a buffer between misbehaving students and expulsion.

"You don't immediately go to expulsion. You're trying to correct the behavior and if it's not corrected, obviously we can still go to expulsion," said Matt Akin, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent.

The new BLG added some offenses, or reclassified others in response level, in an effort to be more clear about how teachers and schools can handle some behavior that was murky before.

For example, it includes details about situations like when students threaten others on social media.

"It may have happened outside of school, but if it's going to impact the safety of students inside school we can deal with it immediately," said Akin.

The guide also is less vague about certain issues, like what a principal should do for a student who doesn't stay in class or in school. The definition of "toy gun" has also been redefined. The matrices now also encourage teachers to address profanity in the classroom. They can also bump the response up based on their own discretion.

Akin said the new guide can make Huntsville City Schools better. Because discipline is such a big part of the consent decree with the US Department of Justice in a Federal desegregation case, this document is important.

"Principals need more flexibility to handle individual situations. So we are giving that flexibility, but we still have to stay within the guidelines of the document," he said. "How we implement will make a big difference toward us getting better and more consistent on discipline. And that certainly impacts our green factor [toward unitary status.]"

Attorneys call the revised BLG a "win-win" but they know caution is also needed.

"While this is a big opportunity, it could be  win for the students (fair consequences) and a win for our teachers and principals (they get to have some discretion), it is something we will be monitoring to make sure we don't have any missteps for the consent order," said Chris Pape, a school board attorney.

The DOJ has approved the document, Pape said, and will be checking in along the way.

The BLG revision is now available here.