In Baltimore schools, a jump in permanent expulsions
My last Sun byline will be on a story about a drastic rise in permanent expulsions from Baltimore schools this year. I reported here back in October, following the explosions at Patterson High, that the system would start permanently expelling students found guilty of arson or detonating explosives. Consequently, 34 students -- including one in elementary school and 13 in middle school -- have been permanently expelled this school year, up from four last year at this time and just one the year before that. Two parents have secured legal representation from the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, which is considering a lawsuit.
We've talked a lot on this blog about Dr. Alonso's recommendation that students not be suspended for non-violent offenses. Indeed, the number of suspensions so far this school year is down by 3,500, from 13,289 incidents to 9,722. But on the flip side, Alonso wants zero tolerance for violence, and he makes a strong statement with his direction on permanent expulsions.
Should a kid who sets a trash can fire be prohibited from ever returning to a Baltimore public school?
But a student who is permanently expelled basically has no choice but to go to a private school or to be home-schooled, since neighboring public school districts typically honor each others' expulsions. For low-income, working parents, neither of these options is really an option. And some of these kids are really young, 12 and 13 in the case of the Legal Aid clients. Even kids in prison get an education there.
The school system makes the point that not many of the cases have been appealed. But when I saw one family's correspondence from the school system, I could understand why. I know the system needs to protect itself legally, but the letters were written in such jargon that it was hard to understand what was happening. There's also a very limited time window for an appeal: 10 days after the initial suspension, five days after a hearing officer rules on a permanent expulsion. The stepfather of the boy I met with said he didn't see the letter until it was too late, which seems to be a plausible explanation in a house with four kids where his wife is running a daycare center.
I think of how hard the school system tried to get dropouts back into school, with phone calls and door knocking, and wonder why the same can't be done to help families figure out something -- anything -- to prevent these troubled children from ending up on the streets.