This story is part of (DIS)Invested — a longterm Reader investigation into Omaha’s inequities.

Students in the Omaha Public Schools will have a revised code of conduct in the next school year. In an hour and a half long meeting at the OPS Teacher Administration Center Monday night, all nine members of the OPS Board of Education approved the second reading of the code of conduct.

Under the revised code, the claim of defending oneself may not be a valid reason for a student’s involvement in a serious fight. Other revisions include changing the language in the code to be gender-neutral and details on how staff may implement leveled interventions in response to behavior that violates the code.

This was the second reading of the proposed changes, which were approved with little discussion from the board during Monday night’s meeting. Anne MacFarland, the district’s student and community services coordinator, first presented the code’s proposed revisions at the board meeting on April 8, reported the Omaha World Herald. On April 18, members discussed the code’s proposed revisions and addressed public concerns around the change for students claiming self defense in a fight.

“It’s been the case prior to this language that our administrators would look at all the context of a situation to make sure that whoever’s involved in an altercation that there’s an appropriate consequence,” Board member Nick Thielen said during the meeting April 18. “Really, the clarification here is just because you didn’t throw the first punch doesn’t mean you weren’t involved in a fight serious and contributing to that situation.”

The student code of conduct is a document that outlines the district’s expectations and practices in response to student behaviors such as fights, refusal to cooperate with staff, possession of drugs and more. Consequences to behaviors may range from disciplinary actions to intervention strategies expected to be carried out by school building administrators, according to the document.

Brianna Full, a candidate for OPS School Board in Subdistrict 2, raised concerns about the revisions to language on students defending themselves in the same meeting April 18. She said the change could add to the already disproportionate rates of discipline for Black students in OPS schools.

She also asked board members to change wording in the code of conduct to gender-neutral language, which they did Monday night.

Changes to the code of conduct will go into effect for the 2022-2023 school year. The 2022-2023 code of conduct, along with a summary of the approved changes, can be found on the board meeting agenda (under J.1. Action Items).

Ahead of approving the code of conduct, Monday’s meeting started off celebrating Blackburn, 2606 Hamilton St., an alternative high school program in the OPS district. High school students stepped up to the microphone to tell the board how they host an event for families in their school each year to grab groceries, gifts and share a holiday meal.

“It’s a good time to bring everybody together,” one student said.

Seven people of the roughly 20 people in attendance also spoke to the board during public comment. Robert Miller, president of the Omaha Education Association thanked a few board members and OPS staff for attending the OEA’s Laurels Night Banquet Sunday, which honored OEA members who are retiring from their careers. 

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week this week, he asked what the board would do to support teachers. The district, and much of the country, has dealt with teaching shortages and turnover as schools continue trying to regain their footing following the pandemic.

“How will you show the teachers of this district they are seen,” Miller asked, “valued and cared for?”

For more on the meeting, read through reporter Bridget Fogarty’s live-tweets for The Reader.

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Bridget Fogarty is a Report for America Corps member reporting with The Reader and its billingual (Spanish/English) sister publication El Perico.

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