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DMPS implements new policy in response to fighting among students

A message from the superintendent said there has been "a steady decline in civil discourse" and it's being reflected in students' behavior.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa's largest school district is implementing a new "physical fighting policy" to address safety concerns.

Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart sent out a message Friday reflecting on "a steady decline in civil discourse" over the last few years. He said it intensified with the COVID-19 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," Ahart said. "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." 

Under the new policy, a student who is in a physical fight will be placed on a behavior contract to try to address issues that led to the fight. If the student is in a second fight, they will be moved to online instruction for 30 school days. The district noted this will be through a third-party provider, not DMPS Virtual Campus.

"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," the policy reads.

If the student is in another fight after returning to in-person school, they will go back to online instruction for 60 school days.

Ahart also said the district will invest more resources into "re-establishing clear expectations for all stakeholders," collective problem-solving, cameras and door security.

He also said changing behavior requires the entire community to model the change they would like to see, as students only spend a fraction of their time in class.

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