A Case For Expelling Expulsion
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
When students are suspended or expelled from school for poor behavior, it always seems a bit counterproductive to me. You have to leave school for a certain amount of time but, unless your parents say otherwise, you can just sit around your house all day doing whatever you want, whether that be playing outside, sleeping, or watching TV. Not sitting at a desk for six straight hours doing schoolwork probably seems like a pretty good deal from a suspended student’s perspective. In fact, it probably feels like a reward, which seems counterintuitive, right? Starting in July 2014, however, this will no longer be the case.
Under Chapter 222 of Massachusetts General Law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick in August, school districts are required to provide educational services to students while they are suspended. Principals will have to develop an educational plan for every student who is excluded from school for more than 10 days, whether it includes tutoring, an alternative placement, Saturday school, or online learning. The school district will assume the responsibility of paying the cost, but state reimbursement may be available.
“In our current system, a student can be expelled from school and not have the right to an education in the entire state of Massachusetts,” said attorney Rebecca Bouchard. “And that was the primary reason for the change in the law – and it’s a good change.”
The purpose of discipline should be to direct students back on track and to keep them in school because “nobody wins when students are not being served,” said Ned Pratt, director of pupil personnel services and special education for Leominster Public Schools.
Under the new law, students can only be expelled from school for committing serious offenses such as bringing in weapons and drugs or engaging in assault. For non-serious offenses, a 90-day suspension is the maximum punishment.
Yet there is certainly not a united front of supporters behind this law, as some educators worry that some of its provisions will prove to be detrimental to Massachusetts city schools.
For example, the law proposes the creation of a dropout prevention specialist position, which bothers Andrew Ravenelle, the Fitchburg Superintendent of Schools, the most.
“I believe it’s the job of every single teacher, paraprofessional, custodian, cafeteria worker, and principal to be working on dropout prevention,” he said. This is a valid point considering the possibility that once one person is given this label, others will feel it is no longer their concern.
Other educators, such as Peter Stephens, a Fitchburg School Committee member, worry that vocational-technical schools along with other selective schools will use the public schools as a backup for problematic students they want to exclude, a reasonable cause for concern.
The law also requires exit interviews with parents for all students leaving the district, but this provision assumes the best-case scenario that students have supportive adults at home who are open to communication. This is undoubtedly not always the case, as all parents would not come into the schools to withdraw their children and ask for a transfer of records. Oftentimes, school staff members end up playing multiple roles in children’s lives.
Perhaps the most ardent criticism of the bill came from Steven Sharek, the superintendent-director for Montachusett Vocational Regional Technical School.
“This law is not going to help children, and it’s just going to tie our hands from removing from our school districts the kids who don’t belong and who never will,” he said. Sharek sent out letters to all area state senators asking for a repeal or rescind of the law before implementation is required in 2015.
I do not believe that such drastic measures are necessary. Rather than an overturning of the law, a second look or revision would be productive in an effort to ensure that its good intentions, such as not penalizing a student twice, are not clouded by the potentially detrimental implications of its provisions.