The Vernon Township Board of Education on May 19 introduced an amendment to a policy that could bar students from high school graduation due to code of conduct violations.
The Board of Education voted by an 8-1 majority that will ban students form high school graduation only if that student is deemed a security risk or with direct authorization of the superintendent of schools.
School board member Justin Annunziata, who opened the discussion, initially wanted the act of revoking a senior’s privilege to attend high school graduation off the table as a disciplinary measure.
“You’re not just punishing the student in that circumstance, you would be punishing their entire family,” Annunziata said. “So, I would like the board to modify that regulation to only allow participation in the graduation ceremony to be utilized as a consequence in the event that the student is deemed a security risk for the event.”
No students have been barred from high school graduation since Superintendent Karen D’Avino came to the district in 2018.
“It’s actually outlined in the Student Code of Conduct, where discipline is escalated based on behavior,” she said. “First there would be detention, and extended detention, then in-school suspension etc., and then privileges are usually revoked at certain times, depending on the level of infraction.”
D’Avino said she believed the possibility of losing the privilege of walking in the high school graduation serves as a deterrent, but Annunziata said it was disproportionate to have that consequence available only to seniors.
“Every student is very individual and unique and how they respond to different consequences or approaches is different,” she said. “When I was principal, I tried to incentivize students because I felt that was a better way to get people to comply because there are always students that struggle.”
Board member Raymond Zimmerman said he’s seen a lot of strategies used and that the possibility of losing graduation might be the only thing that works.
Vice President Joe Sweeney relayed an incident years ago where a principal barred a student from graduation and the family appealed to the school board, which sided with the administration.
“What I don’t want to see happen is what Joe said happened years ago, which is: this is given out as a consequence at some point in the future, and we have a parent that comes to the board and appeals that decision, and I don’t want us to have to go against the decision of our administrators.”
He said this is a tool in the administrators’ arsenal that he didn’t want to see employed.
“I think it’s a last resort tool,” board member Martin O’Donnell said.
It had been the high school principal alone who could bar the student from graduation and the amended policy puts final approval In the hands of the superintendent.
“I get that it’s such a big consequence,” board member Adina Leuthner said. “To put the power in one person’s hand I think is probably the bigger issue.”