High expulsion rate concerns board member

Prince William expelled 106 students in the 1999-2000 school year, and after comparing the county’s numbers to five other Virginia school districts, one School Board member has asked the board to rethink its policy.

While other school systems like Arlington and Newport News fund alternative education for delinquent students, Prince William generally expels a student for 365 days, leaving families the responsibility of funding alternative education like night school, according to School Board member Steven Keen, Woodbridge District.

“I am becoming increasingly convinced that what we are doing is not meeting the needs of students,” Keen said at a meeting Wednesday night.

The issue of student discipline was introduced by Keen at a School Board meeting earlier this month when he requested information on other school systems as well as Prince William statistics.

When the numbers were presented at Wednesday’s meeting, Keen was not surprised. “I had a feeling we were king of the hill.”

According to 1999-2000 figures compiled by the Virginia Department of Education, neighboring Fairfax County, with a student enrollment of 155,000, only expelled 60 students, and Chesterfield County, with a student population of 49,000, expelled 13 students. Prince William’s student population was 53,000.

In the last three years, 75 percent of the expulsion cases brought before the Prince William School Board have resulted in expulsion, according to Wayne Mallard, an area associate superintendent.

Allison Nourse-Miller, an area superintendent, said she is currently looking at about 40 cases at several schools where she and principals are trying to weed out some cases before sending students to an expulsion hearing. “Some of them are very serious things,” she said.

According to a report on expulsions in 2001 compiled by School Board Chairwoman Lucy S. Beauchamp, students are typically expelled for offenses like weapons violations, drug possession and assaults.

On the flip side, students reapplying for readmission to a Prince William school one year after being expelled are rarely turned down by the School Board, said Clarice Torian, director of Student Services.

“[Expulsion] is when families hit rock bottom. With the expulsions, we see that the parents are following through with counseling,” Torian said. “We see the before-and-after picture.”

Still, Keen is proposing that the School Board begin to look at expulsion as a last resort, thus funding education for students with discipline problems.

Keen cited that the Newport News School District transfers all of its delinquent students to alternative schools funded by the school system.

“For some reason, we seem to be denying educational services for our students,” Keen said. “I am personally uncomfortable with the number we are excluding. Every student is different, some students need more than others.”

Staff writer Louise Cannon can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 123.

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