Fewer students expelled last school year
Expulsions in School District 51 fell from 87 in 2011-12 to 62 in 2012-13, because of relaxed expulsion laws, better behavior and a new drug counseling program, according to district executives.
Legislation went into effect last summer in Colorado that allows administrators more discretion in deciding which students are expelled. Before, expulsion was required for robbery, drug possession, first- or second-degree assault and possession of a dangerous weapon like a knife. An addition to 2012’s House Bill 1345 narrowed the “zero tolerance” policy to require expulsion for a student who brings a gun into a school.
District 51 Safety and Transportation Director Tim Leon said he doesn’t feel the new policy makes schools less safe. Students still can be expelled for violations, but principals can decide which level of punishment is appropriate for students based on their age, intentions, past disciplinary history and other factors.
“People started looking at it and saying, ‘We’re making criminals out of kids who didn’t really do anything,’” Leon said.
“The other part of it is kids are doing a much better job, too,” he added.
Felony assaults were the only category with more expulsions this past year, going from zero in 2011-12 to four in 2012-13. Leon said felony assaults go above the level of a shoving match to a fight where someone receives a serious injury, such as a broken nose.
The number of expulsions for possession of dangerous weapons shrank from eight in 2011-12 to zero in 2012-13, alcohol violations and “other” violations remained stable and second-offense drug violations, which require expulsion per district policy, decreased from 55 in 2011-12 to 41 in 2012-13.
A drug counseling program has helped decrease the number of drug expulsions, according to Fruita Monument High School Assistant Principal Todd McClaskey. The program, which grew out of a one-year pilot at Fruita Monument and into a district-wide high school program in 2012-13, allows students suspended for a first-time drug offense other than selling drugs (grounds for an automatic expulsion) to volunteer for a four-hour counseling session on a Saturday at one of the district’s four traditional high schools. The session covers the dangers of drugs and how to make good life decisions.
Students who participate in the program get their suspension sentences cut from five to three days. Students who have not been suspended but want drug counseling can participate in the program, too.
McClaskey said local high school administrators started noticing an uptick in drug-related expulsions and suspensions about five years ago. Those numbers have declined the past two years and none of the 112 students who participated in the program this past year were later expelled for a second drug offense, McClaskey said.
“Education and prevention are really what we’re after,” he said. “We said, we have to do something instead of suspending them and hoping they change their behavior.”
Students who are screened by Colorado West Mental Health therapists contracted by the district to conduct the counseling program can go through 12 weeks of counseling if the therapists decide the student may have an addiction problem. District 51 Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller, who wrote the four-year grant the state will award to the program through spring 2016, said 55 of the students who participated in the program this past school year had more than a recreational acquaintance with drugs.