Every school has a student handbook. I strongly believe that the handbook is a living, breathing tool that should be updated and changed every year. As a school principal it is essential that you keep your student handbook up-to-date. It is also important to realize that every school is different. They have different needs and their students have different issues. A policy that will work in one district, may not be as effective in another district. With that said, I believe there are ten essential policies that every student handbook should include.
Attendance does matter. Missing a lot of class can create huge holes that could lead to academic failure. The average school year in the United State is 170 days. A student who misses an average of 10 days a year beginning in pre-Kindergarten through twelvth grade will miss 140 days of school. That adds up to almost an entire school year that they have missed. Looking at it in that perspective, attendance becomes increasingly important and without a solid attendance policy it is virtually impossible to deal with. Tardies are equally important, because a student who comes in late time after time is essentially playing catch up every day they are late.
Never in the history of education has it been as important as it is today to have an effective bullying policy. Students across the globe are effected by bullying every single day. The number of bullying incidents only continue to increase each year. We hear about students dropping out of school or taking their lives because of bullying all too often. Schools have to make bullying prevention and bullying education a top priority. This starts with a strong bullying policy. If you haven't got a anti-bullying policy or it hasn't been updated in several years it is time to address it.
Cell phones are a hot topic amongst school administrators. Over the last ten years they have increasingly caused more and more problems. With that said, they can also be a valuable education tool and in a catostrophic situation, they can save lives. It is essential that schools evaluate their cell phone policy and figure out what will work best for their setting.
Unless your school requires your students to wear uniforms, then a dress code is essential. Students continue to push the envelope when it comes to how they dress. There are so many distractions that a student can cause by how they dress. Like many of these policies, they need to be updated yearly and the community the school is located can influence what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. Last year a student came to school wearing bright lime green contact lenses. It was major distraction for the other students and so we had to ask him to remove them. It wasn't something that we had dealt with before, but we adjusted and added to our handbook for this year.
There is no denying that not every student will get along with every other student. Conflict does happen, but it should never get physical. Too many negative things can occur when students engage in a physical fight. Not too mention that the school could be held liable if a student is severly injured during a fight. Big consequences are the key to stopping fights from occurring on campus. Most students do not want to be suspended from school for a long period of time and they especially do not want to deal with the police. Having a policy in your student handbook that deals with fighting with tough consequences will help deter many fights from occurring.
I am a firm believer that when students respect teachers and teachers respect students that it can only benefit learning. Students today as a whole aren't as respectful adults as what they used to be. They simply aren't taught to be respectful at home. Character education is increasingly becoming the school's responsibility. Having a policy in place that education and demands mutual respect between both the students and the faculty/staff can have a profound effect on your school building. It is amazing how much more pleasant it can be and how discipline issues can be minimized through such a simple thing of respecting one another.
Every student handbook needs a student code of conduct. The student code of conduct will be a simple list of all the expectations that the school has for their students. This policy should be at the front of your handbook. The student code of conduct does not need to go into a lot of depth, but instead needs to be an outline of the things you feel are most important to maximizing a student's learning potential.
Students need to have a list of all the possible consequences if they make a poor choice. This list will also assist you in trying to figure out how to deal with a particular situation. Being fair is very important as you make discipline decisions, but there are many factors that go into that situation. If your students are educated on the possible consequences and have access to those in their handbook, they cannot tell you that they didn't know or that it isn't fair.
There are times when you will have to search a student or a student's locker, back pack, etc. Every administrator better know proper search and seizure procedures, because an improper or inappropriate search can result in legal action. Students too, should be made aware of their rights. Having a search and seizure policy can limit any misunderstanding about a student's rights when it comes to searching them or their possessions.
In my opinion, there is no job in education more daunting than that of a substitute teacher. A substitute often does not know students very well and students take advantage of them every opportunity they get. Administrators often deal with many issues when substitutes are used. With that said, substitute teachers are necessary. Having a policy in your handbook to discourage poor student behavior will help. Educating your substitute teachers on your policies and expectations will also cut down in discipline incidents.