Revisions considered for Yarmouth H.S. student honor code

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YARMOUTH — Three months after a federal lawsuit unsuccessfully challenged the high school’s Extra Curricular Honor Code, a group of students, parents and teachers are revising the code.

The April lawsuit 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.

Students must sign the four-page honor code to participate in sports or other activities. They promise not to use tobacco or alcohol, haze other students or take part in anything that might embarrass the school during the school year.

Ted Hall, the high school principal, said 332 teachers, coaches, parents and high school students responded to a survey he sent near the end of the school year. More than 80 percent of those who responded believed a co-curricular code is necessary, Hall said, about 61 percent said the consequences of the existing code are “just about right,” and 25 percent believed it is “too harsh.”

The majority believed self-reporting should be maintained in a revised code, and that students caught violating the code must meet with the school’s substance abuse counselor to assess the student’s level of use, receive education about the short-and long-term impacts of substance use and provide recommendations to the student and parents. In addition, people indicated a willingness to include all co-curricular activities in the code, not just sports.

“The results of the survey indicate that we don’t need to take a big sharp turn,” Hall said. “The results show most respondents think we are on the right track.”

But Michael Waxman, the attorney who represented the student who filed the lawsuit, Wednesday said he was disappointed by the survey.

“Out of over 8,000 residents of Yarmouth, only 332 took the time to return the survey,” Waxman said. “There seems to be a lot of apathy in Yarmouth. Apparently, people don’t feel strongly about this issue.”

Waxman said while Hall and other members of the group come to the table with an authentic interest in “doing the right thing,” he said he expected more input from the community.

“I honestly believe we are looking at lazy, hypocritical parents who think the school can help them do their parenting,” he said. “How about we help our children by teaching them good decision-making skills, safe drinking habits and providing a responsible model for their behaviors?”

Hall said the group working on the honor code is well-balanced: Superintendant Judy Paolucci, the president of the high school student senate, three parents, two School Committee members, two coaches, substance abuse councilor Jill Frame, and high school Assistant Principal Amy Bonegard.

Paolucci said the group started with a discussion of what doesn’t work within the code.

“Once we identified what areas were unclear or misunderstood, it made it easier to work through the code,” she said. “We know we cannot please everyone, but we want to meet the needs of the students while being fair and clear.”

Paolucci said after considering the survey results, the group saw that most people are supportive of a code. Those who are not in favor were able to give specific and helpful information which was used to consider revisions, she said.

“We want to maintain a community and send a message to students about expected behaviors,” Paolucci said. “This is more about clarifying the confusing areas rather than making a philosophical shift.”

Paolucci said the team will present the revised code language to the School Committee policy subcommittee and to the public for further discussion within a few weeks. 

“This is about forward thinking,” she said. “We don’t want the public to come and complain about the old code, we want them to come and offer their input on the new code.”

While the process will not be rushed, Hall said he would like to have the revised honor code in place by fall.

“I hope we can make language proposals by our next meeting and present it to the School Committee later this summer,” he said.

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