D51 board eyes expulsion policy change

District 51 School Board members will vote at their Dec. 11 meeting on four revised policies that will eliminate mandatory expulsion for all but one violation.

Current board policy requires administrators in the district to expel students who sell drugs, throw objects that may cause injury or damage, rob or assault someone, or possess dangerous weapons if those violations happen at school, in a school-owned or -contracted vehicle or at a district-sponsored event.

The revised board policies make expulsion for those violations a possibility rather than an inevitability in order to match a provision in the 2012 Colorado School Finance Act. The act changed state statutes to say the above violations “may” be grounds for expulsion but dismissal is no longer mandatory for anything but possession of a firearm at school.

A “zero tolerance” policy for certain violations was adopted in Colorado after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen said the new policy will not make schools more dangerous, just allow principals more flexibility in deciding expulsions on a case-by-case basis. Larsen said the district has had situations in the past in which a student did not mean to do the wrong thing but a principal’s hands were tied.  “This gives us discretion to use common sense,” Larsen said.

Proposed policies will not give students free reign to misbehave, Larsen said. Expulsions will still be an available punishment for various violations. Larsen said the district plans to continue to consult a matrix used to determine if students should be suspended or expelled for various behaviors but the matrix will be re-tooled slightly to allow but not require expulsions for certain actions.

Larsen said he anticipates expulsions will drop initially after the policy adoption if it happens. He welcomes that because it keeps students in school. He also hopes new counseling for students who are caught with drugs or alcohol will help decrease expulsion numbers.

The anticipated certification Thursday of this November’s ballot and resulting legalization of small amounts of marijuana for Coloradans 21 and older could push expulsions up, Larsen predicted. District policy is not likely to change on marijuana possession at school.

“I would be foolish to say I’m not concerned about Amendment 64 because marijuana exposure to our students is not a good thing and it will probably cause situations that would not have occurred otherwise,” he said.


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