At a time when discipline policies in school districts across South Dakota have been brought to the forefront, the Vermillion board gave initial approval to a draft of newly revised rules that define the types of behavior that aren't allowed among students involved in extra-curricular activities.
The policy also establishes penalties for violating those rules.
Similar student policies have been in the news lately after the dismissal of five basketball players from the top-ranked Watertown boys' basketball team in late January.
That action came as a surprise to many prep sports lovers across South Dakota – especially given the offense was the players' first.
It also, however, raised a debate among parents, coaches and administrators concerning not only the severity of rules in some districts, such as Watertown, but a perceived leniency in those same rules in other school districts.
Judging from comments at Monday's school board meeting, the new Vermillion School District policy, which will receive its second reading and possible approval at the board's next meeting Feb. 11, is less lenient than the rules that are currently in place.
At the same time, the penalties built into the new policy are arguably not as severe as those in Watertown, or in other school districts in South Dakota.
Rules put in place in the policy currently considered by the board include:
- No drinking or possession of alcoholic beverages.
- No smoking, use or possession to tobacco substances.
- No use, ingestion, or possession of illegal drugs and/or paraphernalia.
- No inhaling, huffing, or ingesting any substance for the purpose of intoxication.
- No felony or misdemeanor criminal activity other than minor traffic offenses.
The proposed policy allows coaches and activity directors to require additional rules concerning curfew, practice, and other items appropriate to the particular activity.
The rules also will be in effect year round, including during the summer. All offenses will be cumulative during the student's high school career. Students will be considered to be under the rules and regulations of this policy starting the first day of summer break after their eighth grade year.
To restore eligibility, a student must continue to participate and complete the season in which the suspended activities take place. Uncompleted suspensions will carry over to the next sport/activity in which the student participates and completes.
Methods of detection
The proposed policy states that any school district employee who has reason to believe a student has violated one of the activity rules and regulations is encouraged to report the alleged violation to either the principal, athletic director, or coach/director of activity.
Members of the community are also requested to report students suspected of violating the activities rules and regulations. All information reported shall remain confidential until such time as it has been determined a policy has been violated.
The policy notes that according to state law, "a law enforcement agency may provide notice of an incident within its jurisdiction to public or nonpublic school officials and to the parent or guardian of a school student if the incident is one in which the agency has probable cause to believe the school student has violated any provision of state law involving alcohol, illegal drugs, firearms, or bomb threats, or has made any threat of violence relating to any school or its students, employees, or property."
Steps in discipline
The policy lays out the following steps for disciplining students who break the activity rules.
A. The activity coach/director will report to the principal or athletic director and vice versa that a violation has been alleged and state the circumstances surrounding the alleged violation.
B. The principal and/or athletic director will consider facts and follow due process and determine whether there was a violation as prescribed by existing policies. Individual circumstances will be taken into consideration when determining if the policy was knowingly or willingly violated as it may relate to possession of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs.
C. The student or students involved in an alleged violation will be given an informal conference with the principal and or athletic director in order to respond to the allegation of a violation.
D. The principal and/or athletic director will then render a decision as to whether a violation has in fact been committed and as to the disciplinary action to be taken, as outlined in the policy.
E. Findings will be reported in writing to the student, as well as to his/her parents, by the principal or athletic director.