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Trustees mull student discipline policies after fights, violence at schools

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Washoe County School District trustees on Tuesday heard several agenda items on how the district handles student arrests, parent notifications and crime on campuses.  

Trustees approved a draft policy relating to the arrest of students on school property as required by state law. That initiated a 13-day public review and comment period. 

The policy discusses how students should be arrested, searched and taken into custody while on school grounds, which was presented by the WCSD Chief of Police Jason Trevino. 

Trustee Jeff Church took issue with the draft policy and asked for it to be returned for additional work. 

Church said the policy did not discuss how campuses should deal with different agencies, from School Resource Officers (SROs) to Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Highway Patrol and more, all of which would be allowed to come onto school property to make arrests. 

Trevino said that Church was right in that the district cannot dictate how other agencies arrest students on school grounds. 

“I have zero authority to direct Reno PD, Sparks PD or Washoe County Sheriff’s Office to do anything,” he said. “However state law says we as a district have to have a policy that this is how arrests are affected on our properties. 

“If an agency were to violate said policy, I don’t know what the ramifications for that would be, but we’re required to have the policy. I don’t have the ability to enforce the policy with other agencies, but we have to have the policy.”  

Church said the policy also did not discuss when the superintendent would be notified of an incident, or when trustees would be notified of an incident. 

“If we have a murder versus a routine battery or vandalism, apples and oranges, and that’s not covered in here,” Church said. “I also have a problem that parents should be notified within 24 hours of the arrest. I want that changed to ‘ASAP.’” 

Neil Rombardo, chief counsel for the district, advised against altering the policy to include communication requirements, as it could create policy conflicts. 

Trustee Beth Smith said she assumed since the policy had been reviewed by multiple police and law enforcement agencies that there were no deficiencies in the legality of the policies. 

“That isn’t to say there isn’t room for improvement,” Smith added. 

“You’re absolutely right,” Trevino said. “This wasn’t designed to go into the weeds as to, once that arrest is made, notifications, and to all these other things. NRS is very specific as to what is required, so that’s what we addressed is the NRS. 

“I think the majority of the questions from Trustee Church are well outside the requirements of the NRS.It’s two different roads that we’re traveling here.”  

Smith asked if the 24-hour notification was set by NRS, and Trevino said no, it came from the district police’s decision that 24-hours was a reasonable timeframe.

“I understand 24 hours could seem like a long time,” Trevino said. “And that would be an extreme stretch. What we were trying to do was provide for circumstances that were out of our control. If we have some sort of mass emergency going on, it may be up to 24 hours before we notify a parent. In most cases, it’s usually within 30 minutes of the arrest or less depending on the circumstances.” 

Trevino said parents are specifically not notified immediately when students are arrested because law enforcement does not want parents arriving on scene before students are transported to “cause a secondary problem.” 

“Oftentimes it’s not reasonable to [notify parents of their child’s arrest] within an hour because we have so many things going on at once that we’re dealing with,” he added. 

Church also took issue with the fact that if a student is cited, as opposed to physically detained and transported to detention, the parents do not have to be notified by law enforcement. 

“It’s still an arrest,” Church claimed. 

Smith moved to change the policy language to notifying parents of their children’s arrest “as soon as practical and within 24 hours,” which was approved by trustees. 

Other approved motions included language clarifications.

The policy will return for a second reading. 

Crisis alert equipment

Trustees approved an agreement with Centegix for $4.68 million to provide crisis alert equipment and software, using American Rescue Plan fundings, as well as elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds. 

The alert system provides all staff members with a badge that, when activated, routes requests for help to “key staff” instantly, according to Trevino. 

Strobe light systems will be installed both inside and outside school buildings to provide a visual indicator of where the emergency is occurring as well. 

Two alert systems can be utilized: a call for individual assistance and a campus-wide alert. 

Trevino said the Centegix system addresses many issues school police and emergency management noted when dealing with other app-based emergency response systems. 

“We really liked the simplicity of it,” Trevino said. “In an emergency the last thing you want to be doing is swiping through your phone for apps. It’s already on your person and you activate it.” 

The annual subscription cost, following the first five years covered under the $4.68 million, is $784,000 per each five-year term. The badges have a five-year battery life and are covered under the contract if broken or in need of replacement. 

Trevino said they hope to have the systems installed in all district schools by the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. 

Discipline data

In a separate agenda item, trustees approved of the project plan and received an update regarding the review process of the district’s student behavioral manual. 

As a part of the review, discipline of students was charted and overall, disruptive incidents are largely down, from 16,700 recorded major disruptive events in the 2019-20 school year to 12,400 in the 22-23 school year. 

Violent events have remained virtually the same, from 7,000 events in the ‘19-20 school year to 7,400 in the ‘22-23 year. 

School suspensions are up, however, from 4,300 in ‘19-20 to 5,500 in ‘22-23. In-school suspensions have decreased from 4,000 in ‘19-20 to 2,200 in ‘22-23. 

The 2018-19 school year had the most long-term suspensions at 33, the most weapons issues (15), battery (12), substance distribution (4) and threat (8) incidents. 

In the ‘22-23 school year, there have only been 13 long-term suspensions, with 14 weapons issues, four battery incidents, no substance distribution incidents and two threat incidents. 

The student behavior task force has been met with four times regarding the review, said WCSD’s Paul Lamarca, and will be met with two more times during this school year. 

“They’re instrumental in this plan,” he said. 

During the presentation, trustees discussed how under current policy and by legislative statute, different students are disciplined based on their background. For example, students who are in transition or in foster care have to be disciplined differently than students not in transition.  

Trustees also discussed how the district handles disciplinary issues when issues constitute a crime and the student is arrested. 

All trustees agreed that both staff and students have a right to safety and respect while at school, and they were in support of a review of policies. 

A workshop will be held in May to provide a project plan update and discussions of legislation and key issues relating to the manual, and, if approved, will be provided to schools on Aug. 1 for staff review. 

A draft of the student behavioral manual and policies will be presented to trustees in September for adoption, followed by training to implement the changes to the plan. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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