Responding to legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly, Naperville School District 203 is set to take action to combat teen dating violence.
The Board of Education had a first reading recently of a new policy mandated by law to be in place Jan. 1, 2014.
“It requires namely that the board asserts that teen dating violence is unacceptable and prohibited as each student has a right to a safe learning environment,” District 203 Deputy Superintendent Kaine Osburn told the board.
The proposed policy defines dating violence in two passages. One definition is “a pattern of behavior where a person threatens to use physical, mental or emotional abuse to control another person” in a dating relationship. The other is “behavior by which a person uses or threatens to use sexual violence against another person.”
The policy covers students between the ages of 13 and 18, and calls for establishing procedures for the manner of response to incidents, clear identification of the district staff members responsible for receiving reports and communicating the existence of the new policy with the community.
Also included in the policy is age-appropriate education for students in grades seven through 12.
With most seventh-graders aged 12, School Board member Susan Crotty noted the apparent conflict between the policy covering students aged 13 through 18, but the education effort being aimed at grades seven through 12.
Osburn explained that the policy was written with the intention of complying with the state statute.
Indeed, the policy as written by district staff essentially mirrors state legislation passed in August, of which the teen dating violence section is only one part.
“When we were looking at where we were ... we were looking at it to be in line with the statute,” Osburn said.
Osburn explained that students not specifically covered by the statute could still be the subject of disciplinary action based on policies prohibiting harassment, bullying and physical aggression.
The problem facing the board and district staff is that the statute lacks specific instructions on what exactly constitutes education concerning the issue or what specific remedies are to be mandated for infractions.
With little information forthcoming from the state as to standard curriculum or policies regarding infractions — but districts mandated to have a policy in place by the first of the year — District 203 is working to put together a plan that will be accepted by Springfield.
“We’re already in conversations with Learning Services and with teachers,” Osburn said. “We’ll notify the community that the board has adopted this.”
Associate Superintendent for Learning Services Jennifer Hester echoed Osburn’s sentiments about complying with the statute, and indicated that settling on specific approaches to the policy was a process that would begin in January.
“We’ve taken everything from the statute that’s recommended,” she said, noting that many of the state’s requirements might already be satisfied by current District 203 policy. “We need to find out where we meet it and where we don’t.”
Superintendent Dan Bridges agreed that some of the issues were already addressed by school district policy.
“It’s something we always have to be concerned about,” he said.
The policy is scheduled for action by the School Board at its Dec. 16 meeting.