Save instead of expel
Janesville School Board members come and go, but one thing that never seems to change: their sorrow over the fact that they have to expel students.
Administrators and the board have tweaked the expulsion process again and again over the past two decades. But expulsions don't go away.
The district expelled a record 58 students in 2005-06. The numbers have dropped since then, but they haven't dropped nearly far enough, officials said.
That's why school board President DuWayne Severson is asking public officials, service organizations and church leaders and others to discuss expulsions at a meeting Friday.
Severson said he wants to make expulsions a focus of his time as leader of the board.
Severson has served for five years, and he said he's noticed that students being expelled often have family problems that affect how they succeed in school—or don't. He wants to see if more can be done to prevent expulsions before they happen.
"Let's try to save them rather than just expel them and get them out of our hair," Severson said.
Some of those invited to Friday's meeting have been involved before—United Way, police and YMCA.
Others, such as two local Christian ministers from Faith Lutheran Church and New Life Assembly of God, have not.
Severson said he's looking for new ideas to get the expulsion numbers down.
"It's a bigger issue than just the school district can address," Severson said.
Friday's meeting will start with a review of the numbers and district programs aimed at the problem. Severson said he wants most of the meeting devoted to input from participants.
One thing Severson does not want to do is weaken expulsion standards.
A few years ago, the board increased expulsions by asking administrators to crack down on students who repeatedly refused to obey the rules.
And in April, the board created a new category of expulsion offense when it expelled students for gang graffiti. Officials said the graffiti endangered property, health and safety. Graffiti can mark territory and convey threats to other gangs, it was said.
"The thresholds will remain the same," Severson said. "Hopefully, we can intervene early so we don't even get to that point."
Another issue the leaders might want to consider is that the district expels its minority students at a much greater rate than white students.
For example, black and Hispanic students accounted for 33 percent of all expulsions in 2005-06 and 2006-07 combined. But those two groups accounted for less than 13 percent of students in those years, according to Department of Public Instruction data.
Severson said it might not be possible to avoid expulsions completely, but he wants to bring the numbers down.
Karen Schulte, director of student services agreed.
"I would like to see zero of course, but if we could go to 20, I would be happy," Schulte said. "That would be something."
The Janesville School District has added many programs over the years to address expulsions. They include:
-- Pre-expulsions—Students and their parents may be referred to this disciplinary process for offenses that might otherwise have become expulsions. A plan is formulated to get the student on the right track. Often, the threat of an expulsion is enough to motivate the student or parent to agree to cooperate, said Karen Schulte, director of student services.
-- Continuances—Expulsion hearing officer Dick Hemming will rule that a student should be expelled, but the expulsion is withheld, and the student returns to school after serving a suspension, if he agrees to get help for his problem, such as counseling, and maintains satisfactory behavior, attendance and schoolwork. Most continuances are issued for marijuana possession. Continuances work much like probation in the legal system. If a student successfully serves out the term of the continuance, the expulsion is wiped out. If the student fails to comply, the expulsion is imposed.
-- TATE—The Truancy Abatement and Transitional Education program, which started out as a place for truant students, now focuses mostly on expelled students. Students often are allowed to serve a shorter expulsion term if they comply with a number of conditions, including attendance at TATE for a semester. Students can earn up to two high school credits while going through the TATE program, easing their transition back to regular school.
-- TAGOS—This charter school, now in its second year, accepts students who have been expelled or who are at risk of failing or being expelled. TAGOS features an innovative, project-based curriculum and a small-school environment. Like TATE, TAGOS keeps expelled students involved in education. The longer students are away from school, the more difficult it is for them to return, if they ever do, Schulte said.
-- Connections—A grant-supported mentoring program at Edison Middle School only. At-risk students are matched with adult mentors in a program supported by Big Brothers and Sisters.
-- BRO and SIS—Also mentoring programs, just getting under way, which match black students with black adults. The district has noted that black students are involved in behavioral problems in numbers much higher than their proportion of the overall student population would suggest. The district is also looking for Hispanic mentors.
IF YOU GO
The Janesville School District Expulsion Forum is set for 9-11 a.m. Friday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St.
For more information, call the student services department at (608) 743-5071.