New policy causes spike in expulsions

Expulsions in the Superior School District have more than tripled this year. The increase in expulsions comes after a procedural change concerning student conduct. All students in cases involving alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs are being br...

Expulsions in the Superior School District have more than tripled this year.

The increase in expulsions comes after a procedural change concerning student conduct. All students in cases involving alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs are being brought before the school board for expulsion hearings.

So far this year, 46 students have faced expulsion hearings: 34 were expelled. The year's not over. Two more students face expulsion hearings Tuesday.

In the past, only students possessing drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs were brought forward for expulsion hearings immediately. Students using these substances before school or off-campus during the lunch hour were dealt with by a team of administrators on a case-by-case basis. Students often faced a pre-expulsion hearing or intervention plan.

Drugs and alcohol only accounted for 68 percent, or 23, expulsions this year. The remaining cases involved assault, continual rule violations, weapon offenses or vandalism.


Last year, only 11 students were expelled for rule violations.

District officials changed the policy concerning drugs and alcohol in an effort to curb use.

In 2005-2006, the board held public hearings on the issue and took a trip to Kimberly to review that school district's policy. In Kimberly, substance abuse among adolescents has been dramatically reduced, said William Rehnstrand, board vice president. From that research, the board developed a drug testing policy and created Pledge Makers, a student group that pledges to remain drug- and alcohol free. Anyone can join.

Pledge Makers are rewarded with three celebration events throughout the school year. The group of about 600 students is having its final celebration event tonight, a lock-in at Carnival Thrillz in Duluth.

The Superior school district performs random drug testing on high school students involved in Pledge Makers or other extracurricular activities, and those who are permitted to park at school.

With the new approach "the board ... thought it would be good to have a common standard," Rehnstrand said. "We were determined to do whatever we could to make sure students stay substance free."

The board wanted to honor the new drug testing program, by hearing every drug and alcohol case, said Susan Larson Kidd, director of special education and pupil services.

The increase in expulsions has had an impact at the high school. Students have an increased awareness about drug use and its consequences; they realize expulsions happen and could happen to them, Kidd said.


Policing from other people has increased this year. Kids are pointing out if they see someone with marijuana on the bus, for example. Teachers, parents and students are all coming forward now if they see problems, she said.

"As far as letting the kids know the school board really meant business when it implemented the testing policy -- they know that's true," Kidd said.

That's the positive side of a stricter expulsion procedure. That doesn't outweigh the negative impact on individual students, Kidd said. She said she did expected an increase because of the procedure change, but not such a large jump.

It's taking a lot of students out of school -- 34 for a minimum of one semester, and 12 were suspended before expulsion. Students not expelled average 15 days out of school before the hearing, missing class, which can hurt them academically, Kidd said.

Typically, the board expels 90 percent of students facing a hearing; that rate dropped to 74 percent this year.

About 18 expelled students, 54 percent, chose to be expelled with services. These students remain involved with the district while they're expelled. The district pays for their education and prepares them for re-entry to the schools.

The district did not plan for a jump in services for expelled students, but is handling them all.

Expelled services options include tutoring, virtual high school (online classes), or alternative curriculum (a computer based curriculum delivered at school after hours.)


Through those programs 11 expelled students, 32 percent, have already returned to school in the district. Two more students are planning to return during summer school.

The number of students involved in expelled with services programs is up, and it's anticipated more will re-enter than in the past, Kidd said.

"Seeing those kids doing what they need to to re-enter is a good thing," she said.

But more kids than ever are still out of school because of expulsion.

Next year, the district administration will return to its previous procedure, using a team approach to look at individual cases and deciding the course of action.

Administrators developed the team approach last time expulsions jumped, in 2002-2003, the last time the district tried getting tough on drugs and alcohol. That year lead to the team approach it has used ever since, Kidd said.

"I don't think anybody feels expelling kids from school is always the best option for kids," Kidd said.

Administrators met with board members to what to do next year. Data from this year and the previous year show the team approach worked best. The district will try to go back to that, Kidd said.


"Everybody is struggling nationwide in school districts to prevent teenage drug use; I don't think it's new," she said.

The board plans to continue having consequences for students involved with drugs, alcohol and prescription drugs, Rehnstrand said. "It's scary to see ... students taking prescription drugs from their grandparents' medicine cabinet and using them with no knowledge of the consequences. A lot of times kids don't realize the dangers and need to know there are consequences," he said.

"It's very difficult to, in the end, say to a student. 'You can't have an education in our schools,' but at the same time we have to maintain standards and safety for all our students," he said. "We will continue with a policy wherein there are consequences for the use of controlled substances in school, at school and at school functions."

The district will also focus on more positive efforts to lessen substance use and abuse by students, Kidd said.

Pledge Makers is a growing movement. It reaches out beyond the school day because students pledge to remain drug and alcohol-free all through their high school years.

"I hope it's a more proactive way to approach it than what we did this year, with the board hearing every drug incidence," she said.

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@superiortelegram . com.

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