Expulsion powers shifted

School Board delegates ability to expel students to Howell

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As part of an effort to move away from micromanaging, the Steamboat Springs School Board will no longer make the final decision in regards to student expulsions.

Last week, the School Board delegated that authority to Superintendent Donna Howell, who will now cast the deciding vote in cases where a student can be barred from attending a district school for up to one year.

"I think the majority of the School Board feels it's one of those areas where we are micromanaging," board President Paula Stephenson said. "We really feel there's no need to have every discipline hearing come before the School Board."

State law permits school districts to defer disciplinary rule to its superintendent. The School Board still will preside over any appeal of an expulsion or suspension, Stephenson said.

In previous years, the five-member School Board has retained its authority to deny admission to or expel students for up to one year. But last Monday, the School Board voted 4-1 in favor of revising its student conduct and discipline policy to delegate expulsion and denial of admission authority to Howell. The School Board also added three pages of policy detailing the procedure for student expulsion or denial of admission.

Jeff Troeger was the only board member to vote against the policy revision. Troeger's "no" vote was primarily because of concerns he had about "matters of due process" for the students involved in disciplinary action or hearings.

"I'm a little bit troubled by very broad statements that say things like ... 'The superintendent may consider and give appropriate weight to such information or evidence he or she deems appropriate,'" Troeger told fellow board members as he read a paragraph of the new policy.

He said expulsion hearings have been the hardest aspect of being a School Board member, and he added that he didn't want to hamper administrators.

"But I want it to be a fair procedure," he said.

Board member Pat Gleason said he's not as concerned about providing a "level playing field" as he is about protecting the students in the district.

"I want to make sure that the school district is able to respond to threats to students," Gleason said Monday.

Howell said she thinks the school district has one of the best suspension and expulsion processes she's seen, particularly in that it emphasizes helping students and finding ways to get them back into school.

Under Colorado law, public school students can be suspended or expelled for a variety of offenses, including persistent defiance of authority, willful destruction or defacing of school property and behavior that's detrimental to the welfare or safety of other students or school personnel.

School districts must suspend or expel students who possess dangerous weapons on school grounds, sell drugs or commit assaults.

For the 2002-03 school year, the district reported 30 in-school suspensions, 85 out-of-school suspensions and three expulsions, according to statistics provided by the Colorado Department of Education. The district reported 46 of the cases to law enforcement agencies. The district took disciplinary action 164 times against 64 of its students.

Suspension and expulsion statistics for the 2003-04 school year weren't immediately available.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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