Preston County Board of Education member Pam Feathers wants to take a look at the district’s discipline policy, particularly how it handles violent offenses.
“I have a huge passion for how much disorderly conduct there is in our schools, and specifically the high school,” Feathers said. “Now, I know it’s not all out there for the public or whatever. But I would say on average, every, I don’t know, twice a week, there are some very violent, abusive, fights in this school.”
Feathers said her biggest concern was level three offenses, which is battery, according to the policy she read. She also pointed out it’s a punishable crime as an adult.
“But it seems like the kids are getting more brazen, the offenses are getting more serious, but our policy isn’t changing or, you know, the consequences aren’t changing,” Feathers said. “And I think we’re doing our young ones a real disservice by not offering more structure.”
The discipline policy is governed by state board policy 4373, which outlines offense levels and consequences, Superintendent Stephen Wotring said.
However, what really throws a monkey wrench into everything is the policy was written without social media in mind, which has “skyrocketed all of this,” Wotring said.
Back in the day, a fight would happen, the students would get punished, parents would be called, a whupping would be handed out when they got home and everyone moved on, Wotring said.
“Now, social media has created this atmosphere where there is so much that takes place before anybody even walks into a school, there’s such a history,” Wotring said. “And they’re, they’re so, it’s so far beyond our control in so many ways.”
Before, punching someone in the nose was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Now, it’s premeditated. Wotring knows it’s premeditated because there’s always someone ready with their phone to record — that’s what takes it to the next level.
State policy 4373 gives individual principals a lot of discretion, Wotring said. He said he would like to discuss the situation with principals, come up with a plan and discuss how they see policies unfolding. Then, come before the board with concerns, where they are and what they think needs to be addressed.
“And I can’t say that we’re not doing anything right. I don’t know what we’re doing,” Feathers said. “But whatever we’re doing isn’t deterring anybody because it keeps happening.”
Feathers said she isn’t out to nail kids but first and foremost they need to offer a safe school.
BOE member Jeanne Dreisbach pointed out Preston County isn’t alone — look at the violence in schools nationwide.
Dreisbach said Feathers has an in to see the videos since her daughter goes to Preston High School.
“My husband teaches there,” Dreisbach. “And you know, most teachers have no idea of what’s going on in the bathrooms at certain times, but there have been some very-disturbing incidents.”
The biggest difference, Wotring said, is his earlier point.
“If I was caught doing that 50 years ago, I came home and got my butt beat,” Wotring said. “Now you try to discipline a child and you get told off by the child, and their parents, and their grandparents, and the family doctor. Because their child does nothing wrong. And that’s the difference. It’s a societal difference. And policy hasn’t always responded to the changes in society we deal with on a daily basis.