PORTSMOUTH, Va (WAVY) — Big changes are coming to the Portsmouth school district this year. A new code of conduct aims to reduce the number of suspensions.
A 10 On Your Side investigation in January showed 17 percent of the student body got suspended in Portsmouth last year.
School board members told 10 On Your Side that changes they adopted over the summer allow for common sense to rule, which will keep more kids in school. Parents who fought for change say they are happy — but they’re not done fighting yet.
Crystal Harrison’s son got expelled from Wilson High School for a fight he didn’t start. She fought back. “Then the school board decided to overturn the expulsion, but sent him over to the alternative school,” she told WAVY.com.
He was an honors student and an athlete with colleges knocking on his door. That all went away because at the time Portsmouth had a zero tolerance policy. “Meaning it didn’t matter if my son got hit or not, he had no right to hit back no right at all to hit back; there’s no defending yourself but now there is,” Harrison told us.
The new policy allows for self-defense so long as; the student did not provoke the fight, had reasonable fear that he or she was in danger, used only reasonable force to protect himself or herself, and had no need for restraint when school officials intervened.
The policy also allows administrators to punish differently for toy weapons than for real ones.
Portsmouth parent, Tyrann Green, applauds the new rules that she believes would have kept her daughter in school too. “I was happy but not so ecstatic that the work stops,” she said.
She and Harrison joined Virginia Organizing and continue to work for change. “It takes everybody, the parents, the teachers, the school administration; not the administration against the parents or the parents against the administration or the teachers. We have to work together for the best interest of the children’s education,” Green said.
Her daughter ended up homeschooling and graduated a year early. Harrison’s son is back at Wilson trying to catch up on what he missed and still graduate with honors. “Unfortunately my son had to be the one to change everything is how I feel. I feel fighting for him and his rights is going to help thousands of other kids now,” said Harrison.
The school district told 10 On Your Side:
The Virginia Department of Education requires all school divisions to review and adopt a Code of Student Conduct that is in line with state laws and guidelines. Our revised Code of Student Conduct follows those guidelines. Revisions to our discipline practices began when Dr. Elie Bracy, III became superintendent about two years ago. For example, in the 2015-16 school year, Dr. Bracy established a disciplinary committee to review practices and policies. He invited staff, parents, and community members to serve on the committee. We’re thankful for parents and others who have decided to join our proactive efforts. We continue to work diligently to help students and families. We continue to encourage the community to get involved in our schools. For opportunities, visit www.ppsk12.us/community.
Related coverage on WAVY.com:
- Portsmouth School Board votes in favor of changes to student conduct
- Amid rising suspensions, Portsmouth considers changes to student discipline
- Portsmouth School Board seeks input on student code of conduct
- Superintendent calls on parents to get involved amid rising suspension rate
- Portsmouth leaders’ views differ on how to address school discipline
- Group takes concerns over Portsmouth suspensions to school board
- Parents, educators fight back against rising suspension numbers