School board considers revisions to student discipline policy
Updated 3:56 pm, Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The Board of Education on Tuesday discussed proposed changes to the school district's policy on student discipline regarding expulsion and suspension.
The revision includes a proposed change to "Procedures Governing Expulsion Hearing," wherein an appointed hearing officer would sit on an expulsion hearing panel instead of five school board members to determine whether a student is to be expelled.
The committee came up with the suggestion while reviewing the existing discipline policy in January at the request of the superintendent's office after high school administrators noticed no difference in how in-school and out-of-school suspensions were handled, according to Deputy Superintendent of Schools Karen Parks.
The committee proposed having a hearing officer conduct expulsion proceedings because the superintendent's office on several occasions has been unable to assemble the required number of board members, parents and lawyers for both sides, Parks said during a phone interview before the meeting. As a result, the office would have to spend additional time within the 10-day limit for out-of-school suspensions trying to locate a hearing officer, which is always a "neutral outside attorney," she said.
Superintendent of Schools David Title said the use of a hearing officer instead of a panel of five of the nine board members would provide "consistency" in handling expulsion cases.
"It shouldn't be a random thing as to which kid gets the board members, and which board members," he said during Tuesday night's meeting. "I really think the time has come to move to a standard hearing officer for expulsions."
Some board members favored the change to using a hearing officer, while others were opposed.
Jennifer Kennelly, for instance, expressed support for the change, saying that the use of board members instead of a hearing officer "rarely happened" because they were often unavailable to sit on expulsion hearings.
"It has been tried," said Kennelly, who sits on the committee with board members Paul Fattibene and John Convertito.
Board member Sue Brand also backed the modification, but requested that the board be informed as to the number of expulsions and at what schools they take place.
Fattibene opposed the change, stating that the policy originally called for three board members to sit on the panel, then five members, and now none with the suggested move to a hearing officer.
"I'm reluctant to see the oversight of the board and obligation removed from them and put in a hearing officer's hands," he said.
Board Chairwoman Pamela Iacono also questioned the change to a hearing officer, explaining that expulsion hearings used to be held at night when it was easier to get a quorum and it is the board's responsibility to sit in during the hearings.
"I won't vote in favor of this simply because I think it's the board's responsibility to hear them," she said. "I would personally like to go back to evening expulsions where the full board hears it, and by statute, we only need to have three board members present."
Title said the hearings need to be heard during the day because certain school personnel need to testify during the proceedings and that would require paying them more to attend nighttime hearings. Lawyers' availability also plays a part and having just three board members sitting on the panel is insufficient, he said.
Asked how many expulsions have taken place in the past 10 years, Parks said the school district has had "not more than 10 expulsions" in the past two years. She was unable to immediately provide the number of suspensions in the past decade.
The other proposed change to the discipline policy, implemented in November 2010, would eliminate the definition for "in-school suspension" and broaden the definition for "suspension" to align the policy with a state law requiring suspensions to take place in school unless administrators determine the student poses a sufficient danger or disruption to the school.
The revision to the 21-page guide also suggests doing away with a section outlining "Procedures Governing In-School Suspension" so that there is one set of rules for in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
The section proposed for deletion states that the principal or designee on the administrative staff may impose in-school suspension when a pupil's conduct endangers persons or property, violates school policy or disrupts the educational process. The passage also says, among other things, that in-school suspension may not be imposed on a student without an informal hearing by the building principal or designee.
The deleted section would be replaced by an existing section titled "Procedures Governing Suspension" which rules that the school principal or designee has the right to suspend a student for breach of conduct for up to 10 consecutive school days. It also lists 10 procedures for suspending a student, including an informal hearing unless an emergency situation exists, reasonable attempts to notify parent or guardian of the suspension and allowing the student to make up missed school work without penalty.
The school board is expected to vote on proposed changes to the policy at its next regular meeting scheduled for March 13.
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