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Hamilton County Schools board members say the district's new guidelines for student behavior and discipline won't be effective without consistency.

Chief Operations Officer Ken Bradshaw presented a draft of the new 'Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline' to board members at a work session Thursday night.

some text Hamilton County Schools COO Kenneth Bradshaw is seen before the start of a school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The code, which district leaders agree was much needed, is the result of almost a year of work by Bradshaw and a committee selected to help draft it.

The district previously had handed out a two-page pamphlet with loose guidelines on zero tolerance offenses and a dress code, which Bradshaw characterized as "very thin."

The new document is based on a model from Broward County Schools in Florida and is more in compliance with state laws and recommendations, he told the board.

"We have thus far put together a 30-page document that is very clear, has clear results and it reduces variability. ... It distinguishes a discipline hearing committee."

The code now allows for varying consequences for different infractions, including detention, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, peer mediation, referrals to social workers, community service and more. And all discipline procedures begin with parental notice.

But board members still worry about the potential for variability among schools.

"I think that consistency is huge, especially when going from one school to another," said District 2 board member Kathy Lennon. "We have to wrap our head around that because we have said we are such a diverse school system, but we can have some things that are the same within our dress code, within our phone usage, within our policies."

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Draft Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline

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Principals will still have autonomy over what options to use for different infractions and will be able to suspend students for up to 10 days. Any out-of-school suspension for more than 10 days would have to be reviewed by a new Discipline Hearing Authority. Students still have the right to appeal a suspension exceeding 10 days or expulsions to the district and the school board.

Bradshaw said principals from several schools including Central High, Signal Mountain Middle/High, Soddy-Daisy High, Tyner Middle and other Opportunity Zone schools helped draft the new code, but board members still pushed for training for principals as the new code is rolled out.

Chairman Joe Wingate, of District 7, also asked for more training for teachers, who sometimes grapple with inconsistent support from administrators.

Hamilton County Education Association President Jeanette Omarkhail said many teachers were concerned that they were not able to provide feedback on the draft and were not asked for input. She said she has offered to assist district officials in communicating the new guidelines with teachers and building administrators.

The code has not yet been adopted by the board. An updated draft is slated to be presented to the board at a July 18 work session ahead of its regularly scheduled monthly meeting that same day.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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