[KHTS] – Hart district schools have seen a big reduction in the number of students expelled or suspended over the last two years, a result of several programs in place that reflect changes in policy over the last few years, according to officials.
A change in the state’s education code took effect Jan. 1, 2013, intended to lessen the number of suspensions and expulsions by school districts.
“The language explained that you’re not allowed to suspend or expel a student for a first-time violation,” said Kathy Hunter, the district’s director of student services, “unless you can prove that the child is a danger or that you have utilized other means of correction to change the child’s behavior and that has not been effective.”
In addition to Sober School, which was launched earlier this year, the district now has several programs, including a fairly new intervention-type curriculum, geared toward educating the student the issue or issues that are causing a specific behavioral problem, as well as correcting the behavior.
This came after an understanding that suspensions and expulsions aren’t always the best way to address a discipline problem, Hunter said.
“A suspension or expulsion is not specific to helping them learn a new behavior,” Hunter said.
There are a few exceptions, which are rarely seen in the district, to the rule on expulsions and suspensions, said Hunter, who oversees attendance and boundaries, expulsions and suspensions, counseling and guidance and disciplinary policy for the junior high and high school district with more than 22,000 students.
If one student threatens another student with a knife, brings an explosive device — more akin to a bomb as opposed to a firecracker, or commits sexual violence against another student, among a few other exceptions, officials can suspend the student immediately, she said.
In 2011-12, there were 1,763 non-duplicated student suspensions, and 76 students expelled for various violations of William S. Hart Union High School District policies, according to the California Department of Education website.
In the 2012-13 school year, there were 1,709 students suspended and 25 students expelled in the William S. Hart Union High School District, according to the California Department of Education. Hart district officials report there’s an error on the state site, because the figure is actually 15. Both numbers represent a substantial drop.
Across the state, the total number of expulsions decreased by 12.3 percent, from 9,758 in 2011-12 to 8,562 in 2012-13. The total number of suspensions—either in-school or out of school—dropped 14.1 percent, from 709,596 in 2011-12 to 609,471 in 2012-13.
Hunter attributed the local reductions to several programs the Hart district put in place well before the state changed the Education Code.
“We went ahead and did a number of things,” Hunter said. “We started off with a committee of folks who were mostly administrators working on what are called other means of correction.”
This resulted in a number of collaborative programs, such as TIDE, which is a joint project between the Action Family Zone and the Hart district for first-time offenders or drug-related violations that are not preceded by significant behavioral issues.
The three-day program is aimed at teaching students how to make better decisions, how to set goals and how to have an “anti-drug” — meaning if a student has other things in their life, it provides a motivation to not want to do drugs, she said.
If this program is unsuccessful, there are other alternatives, such as the more intensive Sober School program.
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station officials also take part in various programming, as well as those who work with the Santa Clarita Valley Domestic Violence Center.
“We have a lot of volunteers who come and speak to the kids,” she said. “Students, parents and faculty have all been happy with the addition of this program. It’s a place to send students to get some help with what could really be a lifestyle problem.”
The district is continually looking to help these students, Hunter said, which was one of the reasons why the district began instituting a policy of student contracts, following a behavioral concern.
“Really, when you look at it and the whole purpose of discipline,” Hunter said, “it is to teach a child a new behavior.”