The following message is from Dr. Thomas Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, about the need for community support to improve student behavior and a new policy in effect to respond to fights between students.

There has been a steady decline in civil discourse in recent years which has intensified with the pandemic. Adults across the nation are sometimes modeling poor behavior everywhere from neighborhood grocery stores and restaurants and airplanes to school board meetings and state and national political arenas. Tempers are short, divides seem deep, social media has been weaponized, our collective emotional resilience is waning, and this sadly influences student behavior in schools and in the community.

Des Moines Public Schools has strategically invested resources to address an increase in physical fighting, both real and perceived, with several interventions including counseling, community resources, family involvement, and a keen understanding that the last two years have been especially difficult for everyone. We are all carrying with us trauma in various forms from the last two years of political and social unrest and the global pandemic. While still deeply committed to restorative practices, DMPS has reached a point where policy changes are needed to address safety in our buildings.

A new physical fighting policy is now in effect at all DMPS middle and high schools:

  • A student who participates in a physical fight will be placed on a behavior contract at their school to try and resolve any issues that led to their unsafe and inappropriate behavior.
  • The terms of the contract will clearly state that, should a second physical fight occur, the student will be referred to a virtual alternative placement for a period of 30 school days. During this time, the district will provide the student and family supports to address the root causes of the persistent, unsafe behaviors and build a transition plan clearly outlining criteria before they return to in-person learning.
  • If, after returning to school, there is another incident the student will be referred to a virtual alternative placement for a period of 60 school days.
  • NOTE: this virtual placement is with a third-party provider and not DMPS Virtual Campus.

Additionally, as a district we are committed to investing more resources into re-establishing clear expectations for all stakeholders, increasing camera technology and door security, and leveraging community partners and parents to collaboratively problem-solve conflict both in our schools and our communities.

While these changes are being implemented, it’s important to note one fact: the time students are in class during the school year is a little more than 12% of the entire year. In other words, if the community wants to see a change in behavior it is going to take all of us, not some of us. Let’s all model the change that we would like to see.

As a community, we expect our schools to be fully inclusive environments where students and staff alike feel safe. DMPS is committed to creating spaces where students, teachers, administrators, and families feel welcome and where positive relationships are built and maintained.

We urge families to review this policy with their students, reflect on the impact and potential consequences of unsafe behavior in school, and most importantly, critically examine the influences in their student’s environment from media to social media to family and friends.

Our state and our nation need a lot of intentional work to return to a place where civility is again normal behavior. Until then, DMPS will take necessary measures to maintain a safe learning and working environment for all.

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