School board members may soon add synthetic marijuana and Internet-based threats to the list of banned student activities in St. Charles Unit District 303 schools. But fully curbing those behaviors may not be as simple as altering the student handbook.
A board committee recognized Monday night the need to keep the district's discipline policy in line with the newest threats to having safe schools. District officials said state lawmakers have come a long way in getting synthetic marijuana products banned from local stores, but constant tweaks to chemical formulas still cause the synthetics to be occasionally available.
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That said, this is the first time the products will be specifically outlawed in the district, even in versions that don't technically contain an illegal drug or controlled substance. St. Charles aldermen voted to ban synthetic marijuana on a citywide basis in November.
"I'm not looking forward to having an increase in the number of students coming before the board with this," Policy Committee Chairwoman Corrine Pierog said.
Indeed, District 303 saw the number of student suspensions increase 33 percent in the 2010-11 school year. An internal committee could not pinpoint a reason for the increase, but the school board members will debate some changes to the disciplinary process for students later this week.
In that mix will be the other element the board committee added to the list of banned behaviors Monday night. Hazing, bullying and other aggressive behaviors are already banned in the district. But making explicit threats on websites against school employees, personnel or other students will now be spelled out in more detail.
Such threats can already become a matter for police to deal with. But if the entire school board approves the policy change, the threats may also become grounds for suspension or expulsion.
Superintendent Don Schlomann said threats made on websites are a tricky legal issue for the district.
"If the threats can't be seen at school or accessed at school, our attorneys are saying you can't do anything about it," Schlomann said. "For instance, if a student texts 'I want to hurt Mrs. Jones' to a friend on a weekend while at the mall to a friend, that's not something you can punish a student for. The law can be involved, but (the school board) can't. But if you put, 'I want to hurt Mrs. Jones' on a blog, and that blog was available at school and people at school could see that, then you can get involved."
School board members worried that the policy change might not go far enough to curb all the routes for such threats, such as text messages. But the majority of the committee favored the change as an additional disciplinary tool.
The full school board must still approve both policy changes.