School Expulsions Debated

City Proposal Would Set Criteria For Allowing Students To Return

August 11, 2009|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

Baltimore school board members debated last night the need to educate students who cause serious trouble while also ensuring the safety of all, as they discussed a proposed policy on permanent expulsions during a work session.

The proposal would allow students up to age 16 who are "permanently expelled" to return to their home schools after being assigned to an alternative program for at least 180 school days - provided they meet certain criteria each quarter. Those criteria would include: minimum attendance of 80 percent; no disciplinary incidents requiring exclusion from school of more than five days total; and completing a fire starter or other support program.

"It allows children to be children," said Jonathan Brice, the system's executive director of student support, who presented the proposed policy. "Sometimes we know young people aren't going to be perfect."

The proposal would also give students an automatic appeal to the school board, which would occur without parents having to take action, Brice said.

In an open letter last October, city schools chief Andr?s Alonso announced his decision to apply the most severe punishment to those caught detonating explosives or intentionally setting a fire, which he described as painful but necessary. If the expulsion is upheld, students are never to attend a city public school again.

Thirty-six students have been permanently expelled since Oct. 25, 2008, according to a presentation last night. Among those cases, 30 were for arson or explosives, while others were for drug distribution, attacks on a student or possessing a weapon. That figure represents a significant increase over previous years.

While recognizing the challenges the policy presents, school officials have pointed to drastic drops in arsons as evidence that the regulation is working. Brice also highlighted last night the dangers incidents pose to schools and the community as part of the rationale behind the concept.

Alonso said Monday that the proposed policy was aimed at addressing board members' concerns and that his original position on expulsions was a line that he knew would be redrawn.

"This is about a very small number of incidents and students, and the question is ... once again, where do we draw the line?" said Alonso, who emphasized the need for a clear stance on acceptable school behavior.

Still, several board members questioned the idea of not providing an education to the expelled students, even comparing their treatment to that of their counterparts in jail, who would still receive such services.

"We're being asked to shut a door, which I don't see, as a school system, we can do - no matter how serious the charge is," Robert Heck said.

Member George M. VanHook Sr. said the expelled students have a constitutional and moral right to an education. Children must be enrolled in school legally between ages 5 and 16.

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