Expelled students face change in policy

Space crunch means some will get no instruction

Focus is on prevention

July 31, 2005|By Grant Huang | Grant Huang,SUN STAFF

Starting this fall, Anne Arundel County schools will implement several policy changes that will drastically affect students who have been expelled or are in danger of being expelled.

Faced with a lack of space at the county's two alternative education schools, where expelled students had been sent, school officials plan to reserve them for students at risk of expulsion.

Meanwhile, the school system will require expelled students who are younger than 16 to be taught at home, with the expulsion period extended from 18 weeks to up to 36 weeks.

The county would pay for teachers to provide about six hours a week of instruction to these students.

They previously had been sent to one of the alternative education schools, the J. Albert Adams and Mary E. Ross academies.

Expelled students older than 16, who had been sent to evening classes, would have no recourse in county-funded alternative education until the expulsion period ends.

The problem, officials say, is a space crunch at the alternative education schools.

"We have the ability to meet the needs of these students, but we lack the capacity to do it," said Kathy Lane, director of alternative education for the county.

It is estimated that 1 percent to 3 percent of the county's 75,000 students are at risk of expulsion and require the stricter standards and individualized attention that the alternative education academies provide, Lane said.

That means anywhere from 750 to 2,250 students may need a spot at one of the two academies, which have space for only 200 students.

"They're more than a little run-down," Lane said of the academies. "But it's a case of tough love ... [the students] may resist, but at the end of the day they'll be stronger individuals for it."

The new policy will refocus the efforts of the two overwhelmed facilities on preventing expulsion rather than punishing it.

Starting this September, a selection committee will meet to decide which county students will attend the two academies.

Students will be chosen based on how disruptive their behavior is toward their schools' learning environment as well as how resistant they are to intervention by faculty and staff, Lane said.

Expelled students already assigned to the academies will continue to attend them.

"It's really a stop-gap measure," Lane said. "Prevention is a better use of our meager resources, for the short term."

The changes follow a recent school system survey that found seventh- and 11th-graders in Anne Arundel County say they feel less safe than did students in those grades last year.

School board member Eugene Patterson praised the changes for emphasizing action before students get expelled, but criticized the plans for expelled students.

"They'll get six hours [of home instruction] a week, and it just isn't enough," he said of the younger expelled students. Patterson said that home instruction would not adequately replace either conventional schooling or alternative education and would be more expensive than both.

As for the older expelled students, Patterson said, "we absolutely need to build a facility or have some place where these kids can go."

Without a facility for specialized attention, he said, they would likely turn to crime or drugs, which would end up costing taxpayers still more.

"It's one of those situations where you can pay a lot now, or pay me a lot more later," Patterson said.

Lane said plans were in motion for the school system to acquire the Meyers building on the grounds of the shuttered Crownsville State Hospital on Generals Highway, but it would "definitely not happen this school year."

Lane said she does not consider the new arrangement optimal for older expelled students, but, she said, they had no other options in the short term.

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