School district's good-conduct policy raises concerns

CLINTON — Clinton School Board members have heard a proposal regarding a "good conduct policy" for Clinton Middle School and Clinton High School students, and will now determine the best way to move forward with it.

A point of discussion at Monday night's regular board meeting, the conduct policy proposal from district Activities Director Andy Eberhart was the subject of comments and questions from several board members regarding a clause in the proposal known as "mere presence." The idea of "mere presence," according to Eberhart, could impose potential sanctions on students who are at the site of illegal activity, such as underage drinking or drug use, even though they themselves aren't partaking.

The goal is to encourage students to be more aware of their surroundings and avoid events, such as drinking parties, to ensure personal safety as well as stay out of legal trouble.

"What we want to do with ('mere presence') is deter our kids from putting themselves in situations knowingly," Eberhart told board members Monday night. "Obviously there are times when kids don't know the situation they're getting into, but we want them to get themselves out of those (situations) as soon as possible."

Eberhart acknowledged the difficulty of implementing a so-called "guilty by association" policy, and ensured board members that further discussion and dialogue would shape the final version after Monday's meeting. Another proposal for the final policy includes a lighter punishment for students who self-report wrongdoings before district administrators hear of legal offenses from others, such as law enforcement officials.

Board president Eric Gettes, among other members Monday night, was hesitant to accept the "mere presence" clause without altering or clarifying the terms, including treating each incident on a case-by-case basis rather than encompassing every incident under one code.

"I always struggle with conduct policies," Gettes said. "I hope that there is room for discretion and judgment on the parts of the adults who are doing this...all circumstances are not the same, so I think we will need to look at each individual circumstance. As a parent, one of the things we want is for our kids to make good decisions when other people around them are not. So I worry about this 'mere presence' because (kids) could be there and not know what's going on, and could still be penalized for that."

Eberhart will now further consult with board members and other district officials to draft the final good conduct policy before the board approves a version at a future meeting.