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The Code of Student Conduct for Calvert County Public Schools received some changes regarding student discipline, cellphone use and student attendance that will apply for the 2014-15 school year, and administrators are encouraging both students and parents to be aware of them.

“It’s important for me to know that the kids know there are new things in here, and there are people here who can help them through things,” Kim Roof, director of student services, said in an interview Wednesday. “It is critical for [students] to know their rights and responsibilities as a student as well as our responsibility as a school system to help them and provide support.”

The Code of Student Conduct, an approximately 75-page lime-green document, will be distributed to students during the first week of school. PowerPoint presentations will also be given to all fourth- and fifth-grade and middle and high school students during assemblies at the beginning of the year from student services staff.

Much was deleted from the previous code, mainly regarding student suspensions and cellphone use.

New discipline regulations were adopted by the Maryland State Department of Education earlier this year, cutting down on student suspensions, and Roof said many of the changes made to the code were language-based, to move away from sounding like the school system had zero-tolerance policies.

“It’s forcing us to not necessarily look at the category of the offense but the behavior,” Roof said. “What is that behavior that created that disrespect? … The categories still stand, but we’re asking schools to start with the lowest level consequences first and look at the interventions we can do and offer supporting services to help. … It’s still about changing behavior.”

A new chart was created to map out the six different levels of response for each category of student behavior.

According to the code, Level 1 responses, the lowest level, are “designed to teach appropriate behavior so students behave respectfully, can learn and contribute to a safe environment. Administrators and teachers are encouraged to try a variety of classroom management strategies.”

A number of “interventions” are suggested for the Level 1 response, including teacher/parent conferences, a conference with a school counselor, lunch detention and a seat change assignment.

The responses continue all the way to Level 6, the highest and most severe level, which the code states is “a result of possession of a firearm on school property or school-sponsored event; removes the student from the school environment for one calendar year.”

There is only one intervention assigned with a Level 6 response: expulsion for one calendar year.

“Students who bring firearms to school will be suspended,” Roof said, adding that not only is the action extremely dangerous and harmful to the entire school environment, but it also violates the law.

However, Roof said the school system has been working toward getting the suspension rate down during the past five years and has been gradually “tweaking” student discipline. The goal is to keep kids in school and keep them engaged, Roof said, while simultaneously keeping everyone safe. The amount of suspensions were almost cut in half last year, she said, as a result.

In addition to student discipline, a change in the mandatory age a student needs to stay in school was instated into the code. Previously, the age of compulsory school attendance was 16.

As the code reads, “Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, the age of compulsory school attendance will increase from 16 to 17 for any child who turns 16 on or after July 1, 2015. Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, the age of compulsory school attendance will increase from 17 to 18 for any child who turns 17 on or after July 1, 2017.”

This is following legislation enacted by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012 to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17, followed by an increase to 18.

The code’s previously lengthy policy regarding electronic and communication devices has also been changed to encourage the use of such devices, within reason, on school property.

According to the code, “Calvert County Public Schools believe there are positive and negative aspects of allowing students to have electronic and communication devices on school property. While they can enhance instructional practices in our buildings, they have the potential to disrupt classroom instruction and the overall school climate.”

Devices allowed on school property include cellphones, laptops, tablets, etc. The code states the device must be registered at the school by completing the Electronic and Communication Device Registration form, included in the back of the code of conduct, and the camera function must not be used on school property, on school buses or at any school-sponsored event.

“This is a culmination of a lot of things the school system has been looking at for years,” Roof said.

The code can be found on the Calvert County Public Schools main website, www.calvertnet.k12.md.us, under Student Services.

snewman@somdnews.com