If last night’s work session on permanent expulsions is a preview of future discussions on the subject, then the road ahead is going to be a long one, fraught with debate.
Fortunately, as board Chair Neil E. Duke pointed out last night, it’s just the beginning of the process. The board is expected to examine the issue for some time, with opportunities for the public to weigh in, before voting one way or another.
As has already been discussed here, there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue, and board members fall on either. A couple (Maxine Wood and student member Jerome Hill) are still settling on their position.
Dr. Alonso and Jonathan Brice, the executive director for student support, reiterated last night their belief that a clear line must be drawn when it comes to acceptable school behavior. The proposed policy on permanent expulsions, they contend, aims to do just that, highlighting certain offenses that warrant being shown the door. Acts such as arson or detonating explosives put the entire school community in danger; at the same time, these cases represent a very small number of the incidents that occur in schools.
As I noted in the story, several board members disagree with that view. They argue that the school system has a responsibility to educate even the most difficult children. Member Jerrelle Francois advocated seeking alternative programs and other services that could curb such bad behavior, saying that there are usually underlying causes for it. Similarly, member George Van Hook said, even if a line must be drawn, it shouldn’t push students out of schools. Rather, the arsonist, gang member, etc. needs to be in school, so they can be educated otherwise. The question, he added, is where they are to be educated — and what resources are available to make that happen.
Anirban Basu was the lone member to unequivocally express the opposite view, describing his colleagues’ statements as “soaring rhetoric on behalf of the few against the many.” Basu said he has a bias for kids who behave, want to learn and don’t pose a threat to their peers. And various counties’ expulsion policies* indicate he’s not alone in that opinion, he said. It’s not a question of denying a student’s rights, but of denying that student the right to remain a threat to others.
So…looks like we’re back to square one. What do you think? Is this about the rights of the individual versus the majority? The need to establish a clear standard for student conduct? What should this permanent expulsion policy look like — or should it exist at all?
*Other districts' policies (outlined by Brice)
Baltimore County: expelled students reviewed for reinstatement quarterly (K-8) or at end of semester (high school)
Harford: student excluded for at least remainder of school year, no alternative education services provided. May be required to repeat school year.
Montgomery: student expelled with no guarantee of right to return
Carroll: alternatives for student’s education explored with parent, and conditions for return to be determined
Prince George’s: high school students may apply for alternative school