Revised school honor code gets initial OK from Yarmouth School Committee

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YARMOUTH — With the help of students, parents, administrators and coaches, the school honor code has been revised to emphasize responsibility and accountability over punishment and consequences.

A draft of the revised Yarmouth Extracurricular Code of Conduct was presented to the School Committee for a first reading at a Thursday, Aug. 26, meeting.

School Committee Chairman David Ray said review of the code began before a much-publicized lawsuit in April that accused Yarmouth High School administrators of violating a student’s constitutional rights after they punished her for allegedly breaking the code.

Although the U.S. District Court case was dropped after a judge suggested it had little merit, it raised questions about acceptable student behavior, constitutional rights and integrity.

High school Principal Ted Hall said that based on a survey completed at the end of last school year, there is continued support for an honor code.

“We learned we didn’t have to take a really strong turn, just make adjustments,” he said.

The draft version of the code covers all extracurricular activities, not just sports teams, and clears up language surrounding embarrassing behavior.

The original code stated “No student shall be involved in any act or activity that might embarrass the community, school, team, coach, or himself/herself. For violation of this rule, the coach and school administration will determine the appropriate disposition on a case-by-case basis.”

The draft code is more concise, Hall said, and its purpose is stated clearly: to build a sense of ownership, pride and collaboration among those who participate in extracurricular activities; to discourage students from using tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and to encourage responsible behavior in the event students break the code.

School Committee member Andy Tureff is also head of the policy committee. He said the code clarifies the requirement for meeting with the substance abuse counselor or social worker for a non-clinical assessment and education process.

For a first-time offense, a student will face a 14-day suspension from all extracurricular activities, but may return to practices, rehearsals or meetings after seven days without competing or performing official duties for the full two-week period. A second offense will result in a 28-day suspension; after 14 days the student can return to practices, rehearsals and meetings, but cannot perform or compete in an official manner for 28 days. A third offense results in a 12-month suspension from all extracurricular activities. Students must meet with a substance abuse counselor or social worker for all offenses.

If a student chooses to self-report, for a first-time offense there will be no restriction from participation, but there will be a meeting with the substance abuse counselor or social worker. For a self-reported second offense students will be suspended for 14 days, but may return to activities after seven days. The third offense for a student who self-reports will result in a six-month suspension from activities and a meeting with the substance abuse counselor or social worker.

“Self-reporting encourages communication,” Tureff said. He said the importance of the policy is to shift the emphasis from punishment and consequences to accountability and responsibility, and to promote communication between students, parents and the community.

“This is a tool to help us get kids to make the right choices,” Ray said. “For them to take responsibility is a lesson with far more importance  than the consequences. It is a great incentive.”

Debe Oberhaug, a parent of two high school students, said streamlining the code will make it easier to talk to her children about responsibility.

She encouraged administrators and parents to work together more effectively to create and encourage a safe community for students. Oberhaug also noted how challenging it will be for students to self-report.

“I can’t imagine any adult who has run a stoplight would find it easy to go to the police station and self-report,” she said. “To expect that of a child is really huge.”

The School Committee made a few language clarifications and suggestions to the Policy Committee, and tabled the discussion until its next meeting, Thursday, Sept. 9.

To see the draft code, visit the Yarmouth School Web site.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or