Sunday, June 16, 2024

School Committee vice chairman Fred Fantini says a vote on school discipline policies will be delayed until after a Sept. 11 roundtable with administrators. (Photo: Rachel Offerdahl)

Discussion about controversial school discipline policies has been pushed to a Sept. 11 “roundtable” of the School Committee, although a second reading of the policies had been scheduled for this month’s sole summer committee meeting.

“It would mean a vote is delayed, without a doubt,” committee vice chairman Fred Fantini said Friday.

The purpose of the roundtable is to hear school administrators’ opinions on setting and enforcing school safety and substance abuse policies, as well as to continue dialogue begun June 5 when committee members expressed discomfort with several aspects of student handbook changes due for a vote.

Policies on assaults, weapons, sexual harassment, abuse of alcohol and drugs and tobacco are all being looked at, with committee members worrying that they catch the innocent up with the guilty and punish harshly without reasonable recourse for appeal. Committee members wanted to see students treated fairly and getting help if administrators spotted a problem.

“What can we do to really get to the root cause of whatever the violation was for that particular student? That’s going to have to be in there,” member Marc McGovern said in June, referring to school policies being revised after a decade.

Although a notice sent by Patricia A. Berry, executive secretary to the committee, at first speaks of the Sept. 11 event as a special meeting, it later calls for a roundtable and cites roundtable rules saying there will be no public comment. That suggests parents and students would still do well to show up and speak at the July 31 meeting. Based on Fantini’s experience since June, that isn’t ideal.

“There was a flurry of e-mails from parents that we were discussing the policy in July, when students weren’t in school and parents weren’t available to attend,” he said. “I think this was an effort to respond to that.”

But the rules of city roundtables also say no votes can be taken, which gives parents and students another chance to speak: at whatever committee meeting, probably later in September, is designated to hold a final vote on the policies. That will be “when everyone is back, so we can have an open discussion,” Fantini said.

Meetings of elected officials scheduled during popular vacation times or weekday work hours are common targets for residents worried about being cut out of debate, but Fantini said there was no intent on the part of committee members to limit public comment on discipline issues.

“It’s just the way it came up on the calendar,” he said.

The meeting to hear school administrators’ testimony is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 11 in the committee’s meeting room, 459 Broadway.