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Batavia School Board calls for more study on definition of self-defense

BATAVIA – The Board of Education shot down a proposal to include a definition of self-defense into the school district’s code of conduct by a 4-3 vote Tuesday night after board member Gretchen L. DiFante called for more input from law enforcement, teachers and parents.

“The committee did not address many of the things we had asked for, there was no teacher involvement, and we didn’t see the involvement of parents with kids with difficulties,” DiFante said. “We also asked for clarification about harassment and that was not addressed.”

Last fall, Superintendent Christopher J. Dailey formed a committee to study the district’s disciplinary guidelines and make recommendations to the board.

He acknowledged that he was not able “to get a lot of people to buy into participating,” as just three adults and two students volunteered to serve on the panel, along with several administrators. He did point out, however, that the group looked at the code of conduct in its entirety for clarity, use and fairness.

DiFante reported that she spoke with Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and Detective Richard C. Schauf, who told her that they had reservations about putting self-defense into the code since it is a difficult to prove when students are disciplined for fighting. “They felt it could open up a can of worms,” she said. “As it stands now, law enforcement is available to make that determination.”

Dailey countered by saying that parents and students have asked for a definition of self-defense and that any specific wording in the code of conduct “would not affect the (legal) process, but it would affect ours at a superintendent’s hearing.”

The panel’s recommendation was to add a definition of self-defense as follows:

“A student has a right to protect his or her self from uninvited physical harm or injury. A valid claim of self-defense requires the danger of bodily harm to have been imminent, that the student was unable to decline or escape the conflict and that the student used reasonable force and restraint in protecting him/herself. Retaliation is not self-defense.”

DiFante said, “That sounds good on paper, but what parent is going to change his or her mind whether their kid was acting in self-defense? Does the clarification really help? Does it change anything?”

Board President Patrick D. Burk said he could “see from a student standpoint how they would feel if they did not have the right of self-defense. I have to weigh in on what students need as long as it doesn’t change policy.”

Board members DiFante, Leslie Johnson, Jessica Maguire-Tomidy and Phil Ricci voted against it, and Burk, Peter Cecere and Andrew Pedro voted in favor.

The board voted unanimously to add powered alcohol, or palcohol, to the list of banned substances in the district.

In other business, the board approved a three-year contract with the Batavia Administrators Association that calls for average annual raises of 2.7 percent and an increase in the employees’ share of health care costs to 20 percent, from 15 percent, over the term of the pact.

The contract applies to four principals, three assistant principals, the director of health and physical education, the director of facilities, and the director of special and alternative education.

The vote was 6-1, with DiFante dissenting.