Editor’s note: This is a statement written by Superintendent Brad Meeks and read to the Steamboat Springs School Board during Monday night’s board meeting.
A recent story in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a few blog comments and a letter to the editor last week may have created some confusion about the school district’s practices in student discipline matters. There are certain procedures and requirements that we follow in all cases. The district does not discuss student disciplinary matters in a public format due to privacy laws, but a brief description should help clarify any misperceptions about the district’s discipline process.
Upon the report or suspicion of a violation of the school district’s policies, the administration is allowed to investigate the conduct, which may include interviewing students and conducting a search of their belongings or vehicles. These interviews and searches are strictly performed in accordance with School District policies.
Once the administration determines that a violation of school district policies has occurred, the school will contact the student’s parents, notify the parents and student of the violation that has occurred and suspend the student. Pending the decision to expel, a student will be suspended. Whenever a student is suspended, the school administration makes arrangements with teachers to be sure the student has an opportunity to obtain, continue and complete their schoolwork. If the student completes the work, it can be turned in for credit.
The school administration may also recommend expulsion of up to one calendar year if the conduct merits it. School District policies provide when expulsion, either for a semester or for a full calendar year, is appropriate discipline for certain conduct.
Each decision to expel is evaluated based on the particular student and the conduct involved. As part of the school district’s discipline process, prior to making the decision to expel, options are discussed with the parent and student. Even in cases where expulsion is merited, the school district will work with students and parents to attempt to identify a reasonable solution that supports the district’s discipline policies, ensures the safety and welfare of the other students and staff, and meets the needs of the particular student.
A student may decline to accept the proposed compromise in favor of pursuing a hearing instead. This is the student’s choice. In every case, the school district follows its policies and procedures, which are designed to ensure the safety of the entire school community.
As mentioned, the student always has the option to request a hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to decide whether the student should be expelled. If the student requests a hearing and is represented by legal counsel, then the School District must use its attorney to represent the administration at the hearing. An independent hearing officer may oversee the hearing, make findings of fact and recommend what discipline should be imposed.
If the hearing officer recommends a “suspension through the remainder of the school year,” and there are more than 25 days remaining in the semester, this is equivalent to expulsion for the remainder of the school year because the school district cannot suspend for longer than 25 days, according to Colorado state statute.
Once a decision to expel is made following a hearing, the expulsion takes effect immediately. For the period that a student is expelled, the school district is obligated to and always does provide students with an alternative educational program specifically designed to allow the student the opportunity to complete coursework that qualifies for credits toward graduation. If the student successfully completes the coursework, credits are earned, and in the case of a senior, the student can graduate. Students in lower grade levels return to school at the end of the expulsion period.
It is my hope that this clarification will help all parents and students understand not only the importance of having solid student discipline policies and procedures but also having confidence that teachers, administrators and staff apply them in a deliberate, careful and even-handed manner.