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California and the West

District Policy Targets Rude Parents

Education: Capistrano schools try to halt threats and other such behavior.


SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The Capistrano Unified School District is demanding a new level of civility on campus.

Not from students. From parents.

In what is believed to be a first for California, the fast-growing school district in south Orange County on Monday adopted a civility policy that could result in misdemeanor charges against parents who refuse to stop screaming, using obscenities and otherwise behaving rudely to school staff. Such incidents have become more commonplace in the district and statewide, school officials said.

"In general, society has become very aggressive," said Ron Wenkart, general counsel for the county's Department of Education. "That is reflected in our parents. More and more, we're getting parents crossing that boundary of civility."

Capistrano school district officials say that their campuses have been awash in incidents of verbally abusive and threatening parents. Verbal abuse has been a constant problem for everyone from top administrators to teachers to secretaries, according to the policy. The actual number of incidents is about one a week, officials say.

The policy uses the state Education Code, which allows schools to take action when someone is unruly, and to seek charges against them when they refuse to leave the campus. The district is extending the code to spell out which kinds of behavior--including the simply offensive--will not be tolerated.

"If anyone raises his voice, threatens or insults employees, the meeting is over, no matter what you are talking about. . . . If you need to insult people or raise your voice, you can do it somewhere else," said Supt. James Fleming.

Under the policy, anyone who threatens the health and safety of students or staff, or uses obscenities or other highly offensive behavior first will be "calmly and politely" asked to "communicate civilly," the policy states. If they refuse to settle down, they will be asked to leave campus and not to return within a certain time, usually a week to a month. If they disobey, school officials may call the police to issue a misdemeanor citation, which would then be prosecuted by the district attorney's or city attorney's offices.

Fleming has many stories about angry parents.

At Del Obispo Elementary School in San Juan Capistrano, Principal John Allen told a speeding parent to slow down in the parking lot bus lane. Instead of heeding the principal's warning, the parent threatened to punch him out, Fleming said.

A Capistrano Unified bus driver who showed up late one day because the bus had broken down caught the ire of a parent, who ordered the driver to hand him the keys. When the driver refused, the parent sprawled in front of the bus to keep it from leaving, Fleming said.

Attorneys at other school districts interviewed Tuesday have noticed the same unruly behavior among parents and other guardians.

In Sacramento County, an angry parent ran his index finger across his throat in an intimidating gesture at the principal, said Diana Halpenny, general counsel for San Juan Unified School District. Another parent drove his car onto an elementary school lawn and brought it to a screeching halt next to a principal who was supervising children on their way to class, Halpenny said.

She and other attorneys said the subject of uncivil parents has been a hot topic at recent statewide meetings, and Capistrano's policy is a welcome initiative to address the thorny problem.

Principal Katherine Muelder at Newhart Middle School in Mission Viejo said, "Every year school administrators face parents who become unreasonable and unpleasant. This policy is welcomed support from the superintendent and trustees. It's our right to have a civil environment in our schools."

Wenkart of the Orange County Education Department said that in the last two or three years, the number of impolite parents "seems to have increased," and what was impolite is bordering on the edge of violence, he said.

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