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Escondido High Schools : Trustees Split Over Student Code of Conduct

Times Staff Writer

A proposal to hold athletes, student government leaders and cheerleaders in Escondido to a higher standard of off-campus conduct than their classmates has created a split among trustees of the Escondido Union High School District even before a final proposal has been drafted.

At issue is a “code of conduct,” proposed by district Supt. John Cooper, which could ban a student from extracurricular activities, depending on the seriousness of off-campus misbehavior.

Critics say the code may be unconstitutional because it would effectively extend a school official’s authority into the home and elsewhere off campus, 24 hours a day, seven days a week during that time of year the student is involved in sports, student government or pep squads. Furthermore, critics say, the code of conduct is distasteful because it relies on fellow students reporting on one another.

“We’re creating a monster,” said school board member Jack Cherrington, who characterized the code as capricious and arbitrary and without enough flexibility to make it workable.

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Puts It in Writing

But supporters say the code merely puts in writing what has been a longstanding practice for years in Escondido and other high schools where coaches have had to discipline students for bad behavior off campus.

“Students need to accept responsibility for their actions. If they choose to participate in extracurricular activities, they need to recognize they are taking on an added responsibility, and with that comes the way they act in the community,” said trustee Charlotte Hotchkiss.

The school board considered a draft of the code of conduct last week, and deadlocked 2-2 on its adoption. The issue will return to the board Oct. 11, when the full board is expected to attend and by which time Cooper says he will have finished fine-tuning his proposal--after a final meeting with student leaders.

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“The policy places a firm responsibility on student leaders and representatives of our schools to demonstrate that they understand what their citizenship should be at all times,” Cooper said.

The kinds of behavior that won’t be condoned by the schools, he noted, are ones that are illegal anyway for minors--including the use of alcohol and drugs, fighting, vandalism and theft--but might not always be criminally prosecuted by authorities.

The Escondido policy would give school officials the authority to suspend the student from a sport or after-school activity, either for a certain time or, in the extreme, for the rest of the school year.

A similar code of conduct was adopted last year in the San Dieguito Union High School District and went into effect in February. That policy states that, if students involved in extracurricular activities misbehave off-campus--and that behavior can be shown to affect the school or the student on campus--then they can be removed from their activities.

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But the off-campus behavior has to affect the student’s behavior on campus before penalties are invoked, said San Dieguito Supt. Bill Berrier. He said a student athlete drinking beer off-campus, for instance, wouldn’t necessarily jeopardize his position on the team.

Berrier said there hasn’t been an occasion to enforce the code since it went into effect.

Escondido’s Cooper said that, in his conduct code, a student’s off-campus behavior is the issue--whether or not it has a direct effect on the student’s on-campus behavior.

“It’s implied that a student in an extracurricular activity is always representing his school, and therefore must adhere to certain standards of conduct,” Cooper said.

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The San Dieguito code of conduct was prompted in part by several off-campus beatings inflicted last year by San Dieguito High School athletes who received court-imposed penalties. The school district at the time, however, had no sanctions of its own to impose on the students.

Cooper said he was moved to formalize a code of conduct, especially for athletes, because a number of coaches in recent years seemed frustrated about how to consistently deal with athletes’ misbehavior off campus, especially the use of alcohol and drugs.

The code-of-conduct proposal is being generally welcomed by coaches in Escondido.

“We all know that coaches already have some power over their athletes . . . but kids need to know we’re not going to just keep slapping them on their wrists,” said Bill Rutledge, the athletic director at Orange Glen High School.

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“They need to know, down the line, that there are consequences for their actions which will go beyond the coaches’ control,” he said. “When the facts are that 80% of seniors in high school are drinking, and so many are using illegal drugs, there has to be a point when somebody says, ‘Enough!’ We need to address the problem.”

Escondido High School Athletic Director Jeff Carlowvsky said he, too, endorses the code--because, if for no other reason, athletes’ behavior is not being governed on the home front.

Acting for the Parents

“We’re taking responsibility off the parents,” he said. “I think it should be a parent’s responsibility, but evidently it’s not getting done at home; otherwise we wouldn’t even have to worry about this.”

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School board member Donald McArthur echoed the sentiment. “Schools are subordinate to the home and to the parents, but we have a majority of our students coming from single-parent homes, and those parents depend upon, and look to, the schools for support and assistance in the challenge of raising responsible youth,” he said.

“And I think the school has a responsibility for teaching ethics and integrity and honor. In that light, there’s nothing wrong with the school setting a standard. If students don’t like it, they don’t have to participate. That’s life, and they better learn that now.”

Student leaders say they have mixed reaction to the code.

Andre Villa, president of the San Pasqual High School student body and a member of the school’s track team, says he supports the code, but would prefer it apply to all students, not just those involved in extracurricular activities.

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‘Where Will This Stop?’

“Being an athlete or being president of the student body is a privilege . . . and I agree that I should set an example,” he said. “But I think it should apply to everyone. I’m wondering just how far they can (govern) my own time. Where will this stop?”

Martin Melendrez, student body president at Orange Glen and a varsity baseball player, agreed that he is not personally affronted by the code, but also thinks it should apply to all students.

“At school, they want everyone to feel the same, to feel united and together. So why does this just apply to the students in the spotlight? They’re setting us apart.”

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Villa said he is bothered, too, that students would be put in the position of “snitching” on one another in order for the policy to be effective.

Trustee Cherrington agreed, and said he could envision a scenario in which athletes from opposing schools would report on one another in an effort to get the opposing athlete benched.

Cooper said the policy would only be enforced if it were “common knowledge” among students that a particular one was violating the code, and then only after the coach met with the student and his parents to discuss the problem and the degree of the penalty.

“We’ll have to rely on the individual coaches who know the kids, to decide how seriously to take the complaints they hear,” Cooper said. “We already deal with this all the time. Kids simply talk and they tell. If there’s a theft on campus, it doesn’t take very long before we learn who did it. This won’t be any different.”

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Paul Turner, the student activities director at Orange Glen High School who spent more than 17 years as a coach, said the code of conduct may be the best way of handling the problem of off-campus behavior.

“We had this problem when I was in high school, and I’m 56. Asking teammates to squeal on someone, that’s a problem. But we need to do something--especially if a kid is going to be all strung out and be a danger to himself or others.

“If I had a better solution than this one, I would have proposed it years ago,” he said.


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