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The Lafayette Parish School System main office is pictured Monday, April 16, 2018, in Lafayette, La. ORG XMIT: BAT1804161231267822

The Lafayette Parish School Board unanimously approved a new district discipline policy tailored to the virtual learning environment Wednesday after prompting from state legislators following a discipline incident involving a 9-year-old student and a BB gun in Jefferson Parish earlier this year. 

The policy was approved in a 9-0 vote with other items without discussion by board members and little comment from district discipline committee members during a meeting earlier Wednesday.

Steve Fruge', director of child welfare and attendance, said in a Thursday call the virtual discipline policy will apply when students are in a setting where they’re learning through a live video platform or are in virtual meetings with educators or other students, such as when David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy and Southside High closed because of large numbers of student quarantines and continued lessons online.

While Lafayette Online Academy students primarily learn through pre-recorded lessons from a digital provider, the virtual discipline rules would apply if they have video meetings or tutoring sessions with district educators as part of the program, he said.

The new discipline policy states students should have their computer cameras on while learning and station themselves in a space that’s well-lit, quiet and “to the extent possible” free of toys, images, messages, personal property or other items that may distract from teaching and learning or would result in disciplinary action if possessed on the bus, in a classroom or on school property.

The policy mirrors restrictions on behavior in the physical school setting, including barring discriminatory or antagonistic language, bullying or cyberbullying, sharing assignment answers or cheating, indecent dress or disrobing, lewd acts, handling weapons or facsimile weapons, use of profane language, and criminal activity including drug possession, among others.

“Conduct that is unacceptable in the physical classroom is, under most circumstances, equally unacceptable in the virtual classroom. While students and parents normally have an expectation of privacy in their home, conduct that occurs in front of a camera and in view of peers and teachers in the virtual classroom may subject students to disciplinary action,” the policy document said.

Discipline will follow a progressive scale, depending on the severity of the offense, beginning with a verbal warning and a consultation with the student’s parents before a punishment, if any, is handed down, the policy said.

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The school system was prompted to establish an independent virtual discipline policy to “clarify expectations for student conduct in the virtual classroom” after the suspension of Ka'Mauri Harrison, 9, a fourth-grader in Harvey who was disciplined after he moved a Daisy BB gun out of the way of his younger brother during an online test from his home. The incident gained national attention and attracted scrutiny from state legislators.

School officials said the presence of the gun, which was visible to the teacher, violated school rules. Ka'Mauri was initially recommended for expulsion, which was later reduced to a six-day suspension. His family and others argued the punishment was grossly unfair.

A new bill, HB 83, was unanimously passed by both the state House and Senate in October, expanding disciplinary appeal rights for students and parents. It separately required school systems to define conduct expectations for virtual instruction settings. The deadline to approve a policy is Dec. 31.

Fruge' said the district’s policy was developed over two November committee meetings and combined district suggestions with insights from other child welfare and attendance leaders in the Louisiana Association of Child Welfare and Attendance Personnel. It was also reviewed by the system’s attorney. The virtual discipline policy, like other discipline and attendance rules, will be up for revision in the spring, he said.

While LPSS’ policy pulls from in-school standards, it also recognizes that context in the at-home environment needs to be weighed in making decisions about discipline.

“The School Board recognizes, however, that virtual learning is a new experience for students and families, and that the context in which student conduct occurs must be taken into account in determining the appropriate penalty, if any, imposed for violations of the Student Code of Conduct in the virtual classroom,” the policy document said.

Factors considered in discipline decisions include: the student’s age, whether the conduct disrupted learning, whether the conduct was violent or threatening, whether the conduct was illegal, whether the student received prior warnings or had been disciplined for similar conduct, and whether the conduct interfered with the rights of the teacher or other students.

The policy also addressed educators’ roles as mandatory reporters and said any behavior, messages, objects or images that raise concerns over the student’s safety and well-being, including the presence of weapons or drugs, may be reported to law enforcement or the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com