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Huffman, Crosby update school rules to keep students safe, manage technology

September 3, 2018

New language expressly prohibiting trench coats was one of the notable changes made to the Huffman ISD code of conduct for the 2018-2019 school year.

Previously, the dress code mentioned that coats were not to be worn in school hallways or classrooms, except during extremely cold weather, but Huffman ISD assistant superintendent Joel Nolte said the district decided to add more description to the rule this year.

“We made it more detailed to communicate that we weren’t going to allow students to wear clothing that could cloak, or hide weapons of any kind,” Nolte said. “We’re not going to have kids walking down hallways with long coats on. We’ll make determinations about what a student needs to be wearing to keep themselves warm, versus what could be used to hide something.”

With the recent uptick of gun violence in schools across the nation, many school districts like Huffman ISD are taking additional steps to prevent potential school shootings, or other threats to safety. These measures are being reflected in student handbooks, codes of conduct, and on district campuses.

“We’re working to have an increased police presence at our schools and making sure our school resource officers are onsite on campus as much as possible,” Nolte said. “We’re also looking into how we can increase the counselors’ availability to help students in need.”

He said the student handbook also includes more references to the district’s safety tip line, Safe Schools Alert system, so students, staff and the community know how to report safety threat information to officials.

Fortunately, Nolte said, Huffman ISD has very little assault or aggressive behaviors on its campuses and the most common code and handbook violations are simple misbehaviors like insubordination, tardiness and dress code deviations.

Addressing specific inappropriate attire in the dress code requires the school district to keep up with fringe fashion trends, like dying patches of hair, ear gauges, or shoes with inserted wheels. The district also has to stay aware of the community’s general consensus on what constitutes appropriate attire, Nolte explained.

“We, as administrators, and our school board tries to adhere to what we feel the expectations are of our community and parents as to what our students should abide by as far as a dress and appearance code,” Nolte said. “What we try to fall back to is — what dress and appearance code to we want our kids to be prepared to deliver when they go out and pursue a job in the professional world? I’m not saying there aren’t jobs that allow tattoos and piercings, but we know there are some professions and jobs which require a specific appearance and dress and we want our students to be prepared to deliver that expectation.”

Not too long ago, if a teacher saw a student using a cell phone, it meant immediate confiscation. But times have changed, Nolte said.

“The phones have become such a vital part of our society and our functionality as an individual,” Nolte said. “We have, as most schools have, tried to move in the other direction and use them as part of the instructional process. It’s been a challenge to not only include them in a seamless way in the classroom, but also keeping up with what the students’ skill level is with those phones is an incredible challenge because they can do things and they can learn things at such a rapid rate. Many of them are positive, some are not as far as education goes.”

A lot of keeping student technology use under control comes down to the teachers, he explained. Teachers determine where phones are kept during class and when they are used. Some teachers have students put their phones in pouches on the wall until they’re needed, while others require phones to be in students’ backpacks while not being used for instructional purposes. Teachers may put signs on the classroom door indicating whether or not students will be using phones that day so that administrators entering the classroom would know not to confiscate a phone from a student that was using it appropriately.

“The expectation is that the teacher sets the tone for their classroom,” Nolte said. “If and when they get around to the point of instruction for that day where students get their phones and start using them for what they’re doing, it’s done in a very supervised way and in a way that’s designed to work with the instruction.”

Nolte realized that not everyone’s sold on the concept of cell phones being a productive tool in the classroom.

“But, I would challenge that and say when done the right way, when a teacher encourages and expects the students to use it the right way, it only increases our productivity in the classroom because students love to have their phone in their hand,” Nolte said. “Many of them operate and learn best when it’s there because that’s how they’ve raised themselves — on that phone.”

Crosby ISD

Similar to Huffman ISD, Crosby ISD has embraced technology as an educational tool in the classroom, even to the extent of providing MacBooks for high school students and iPads for middle school students.

“We encourage the use of technology in education-related ways, but if kids are texting each other and it’s not related to instruction, then they’re asked to put their phone away and that usually takes care of it,” Kay said.

Crosby ISD allows teachers to make their own cell phone policies for their classroom, which are relayed to students at the beginning of the year.

However, Crosby ISD’s responsibilities when it comes to students’ interaction with technology are not always confined to district property, or school hours.

“Some of the things we have to deal with now concern cyber-safety,” Kay said. “A student can be texting another student at home, but if an issue stems from the message between devices and it disrupts the school environment, then we have to deal with it.”

She explained that in cases of serious violations against the code of conduct — like sexual harassment, bullying, or threats of harassment — law enforcement may become involved and a determination will be made as to whether the student’s phone must be confiscated.

This year, Crosby ISD also added a provision to their dress code addressing clothes able to cloak weapons. The code had already banned sagging pants, requiring a belt to be worn with oversized pants.

“We have added in, ‘no oversized clothing’ this year, whether it’s a trench coat, or another coat, a windbreaker — any clothes that are excessively oversized are not allowed,” said Patricia Kay, Crosby ISD assistant superintendent.

Crosby ISD officials had discussed implementing a clear, or mesh, backpack requirement for students this school year. Kay said that community opinion on the issue was more or less evenly split.

“Our middle school wanted to test the waters there and have the kids bring clear or mesh backpacks, but we got quite a bit of resistance, so we didn’t go with it this year,” Kay said.

Kay will be working with principals throughout the year to track any issues or discipline events requiring a backpack search. At the end of the school year, the district will consider the collected data and based on the results, will determine whether the backpack requirement is necessary for the following school year.

mfeuk@hcnonline.com

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