ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
Stand your ground...How to keep the peace at activities, conferences
by Shayne Aldridge
Shayne Aldridge, a former teacher and special education administrator, is a school law attorney from Pleasant Plains.
Setting district prohibitions usually poses few problems. No guns at school, no problem. No drugs, no problem. No tobacco, no alcohol, no problem.
But, prohibiting obscenities from being hurled at the referees, umpires, line judges, the other team’s coaches, our own coaches, teachers, the principal, the superintendent or school board members? Now that’s a problem.
“As a taxpaying resident of this school district (insert name of any district in Illinois), I have a right to say what I want, where I want and to whom I want. And this school district can’t stop me.”
So goes the thinking of many parents, grandparents, visitors and others who venture onto school property for school functions. Of course people become upset when the umpire’s call goes against the home team … or when a child’s teacher sends home bad news about grades. But no reason excuses unsportsmanlike conduct at an athletic event or rude behavior aimed at a teacher in a parent conference.
Luckily, local school boards can adopt policies and procedures to address those who display such conduct on school property.
The Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/1 et seq) empowers school boards with the authority to make and enforce rules for school visitors. Whether at the Friday night football game or parent-teacher conferences, school boards (through policy) and administrators (through their actions) must control and protect the school premises, which in most cases, also means protecting school staff and athletic officials.
To do so, school boards can restrict visitors from being on school property if they have been found in violation of the board’s visitation policy rules. School boards can and should develop reasonable rules for the conduct visitors demonstrate on school property.
105 ILCS 5/24-24 provides, in part:
The board may make and enforce reasonable rules of conduct and sportsmanship for athletic and extracurricular school events. Any person who violates such rules may be denied admission to school events for not more than one year, provided that written 10 days notice of the violation is given such person and a hearing had thereon by the board pursuant to its rules and regulations. The administration of any school may sign complaints as agents of the school against persons committing any offense at school events.
This code section gives school boards great latitude but little guidance. The questions become, if a school board can reasonably limit visitor conduct then how far do the prohibitions extend? Second, what should those “reasonable” rules look like? And finally, how should the district administration enforce those rules at the violation site and beyond?
Long arm of the law
Section 24-24 does not define its operative language, so school board’s policies should provide definitions needed to enforce the law. PRESS Board Policy 8:40 defines school property as “school buildings, district buildings not being used as a school, vehicles used for school purposes, any location during a school athletic and other school-sponsored event, and school grounds.”
We can all agree that a school board has the right to enforce its policy rules in areas it clearly owns, but this policy goes well beyond the school’s property as it extends to “any location” during a school-sponsored activity.
The PRESS policy’s definition of “school property” allows a school board to discipline individuals connected to its district who visit the grounds of another school district to attend a school-sponsored event. That means a parent who attends the academic team’s tournament at an opposing school’s building and who violates the “reasonable rules of conduct and sportsmanship for athletic and extracurricular school events” may be asked to leave the building and could face further possible discipline from his or her resident school district.
Having authority to promulgate “reasonable” rules of conduct, school districts should express their expectations for “mutual respect, civility, and orderly conduct among all individuals on school property or at a school event.” Local school boards should review their board policies to determine if those policies address the conduct most likely to occur on school property. The policy should cover all prohibited conduct mandated in the School Code, and also conduct unique to a school district.
For example, if a high school historically had specific misconduct, the board also should include that conduct in its prohibited conduct list. The list, at a minimum, should include the following:
• Injuring, threatening, or intimidating district staff, sports officials or coaches;
• Damaging or defacing district property;
• Smoking or otherwise using tobacco products in any form;
• Consuming, distributing, or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
• Possessing dangerous devices or weapons; and
• Disrupting or interfering with school activities.
The above list sets forth specific misconduct, which when committed on school property will result in some type of discipline, whether it’s ejection from property, confiscation of prohibited items or even police intervention.
The misconduct list does not include behaviors considered unsportsmanlike during an athletic or extracurricular event. Unsportsmanlike conduct may not rise to the culpability levels in the misconduct list, so the school board should adopt a policy addressing unsportsmanlike conduct for which an individual may be ejected from the event or even denied admission to future school events for up to one calendar year.
Below are some unsportsmanlike conduct examples a school board may want to include in its policy regarding behavior during a school-sponsored event:
One prolific unsportsmanlike behavior at athletic events is using vulgar or obscene language. Who hasn’t tossed an epitaph or two at a referee during a heated contest? But there is a line that, when crossed, the school board policy must allow ejecting the individual from the school property.
Friday night lights and alcohol mix like fire and gasoline. At times tempers flare, so possessing or being under the influence cannot be allowed at school events.
And then, when an individual’s conduct becomes out of control, someone from the school must ask the person to leave school property. At times, individuals refuse to leave, so the policy should include language regarding an attendee’s failure to obey the instructions of a security officer or school district employee as unsportsmanlike conduct that could result in further disciplinary action. Other than kicking the person out of the volleyball game, what can a district do?
School administrators have to take appropriate action to enforce board policy. However, there are only so many ways to handle the violations:
• asking the individual to refrain from the offensive conduct,
• ejecting offender from the site,
• disciplining under the student conduct code, or
• calling law enforcement for trespassing.
The School Code allows a board of education the extreme option to “expel” a policy violator for up to one calendar year. The process begins when a superintendent schedules a school board hearing and sends a hearing notice by certified mail with return receipt requested to the offending party.
The notice must be delivered at least 10 days before the school board hearing date, and must contain the same type of information contained in a student expulsion notice. The school board then hears the evidence and makes a determination of guilt and punishment. The offender can avoid this public process by waiving the board hearing, if desired.
School boards have the authority and process for denying individuals and students from attending future games, contests and events. It doesn’t matter if the misconduct was at a different school building or property; the home school has the ability to ban the offender from all events, both home and away.
Yet, with this power comes responsibility. All school boards should have such participant policies in place and should review them with all participants at the season’s start so that administrators can stand their ground and keep peace on school property.
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