Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Expulsions down in Blaine schools

In-house suspension program keeps kids in school


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Express graphic by Coly McCauley Statistics provided by the Blaine County School District show that expulsions were down about 50 percent this year.

Fewer kids were kicked out of Blaine County schools this year compared to previous years.

Information provided by the Blaine County School District shows that only five students were expelled for the 2009-10 school year, compared to an average of about 10 students per year over the past several years.

District Superintendent Lonnie Barber said he's not sure of the reasons, but is glad the number is down.

"We don't want to expel kids," Barber said. "Kids need to be in school, not out of school."

According to the school district, 11 kids were expelled last year, seven the year before and from 10-11 per year for the school years dating back to 2004.

The most common reason for expulsion is drug or alcohol use. Students are typically given a second chance for school substance-abuse violations, but not for more serious offenses such as bringing a weapon to school or for selling drugs.

Wood River High School Principal John Blackman, who becomes the district assistant superintendent in July, said he thinks the number of expulsions was down this year because of an in-house suspension program that keeps students in a school setting rather than at home or out on the streets if they're given a five-day suspension.

"This is our second year in the program and we're starting to see it work," Blackman said.

Blackman was referring to the Connections Program, established by the school district, the Blaine County Probation Department and the Blaine County Drug Coalition.

In the Connections Program, suspended students are required to attend school, not at their regular school, but in a classroom at the Community Campus. Blackman said schoolwork is brought to the suspended students each day so they don't get behind on assignments. In some cases, he said, students were behind on schoolwork before being suspended and the Connections Program gave them the opportunity to get caught up.

"What we're doing is setting them up for success instead of for failure," Blackman said.

He said the program has helped cut down in expulsions because most students who get kicked out of school have been previously suspended once or more.

Blackman said getting behind on schoolwork is a major reason for expulsions because some students just stop trying.

"They just kind of gave up, and what happens when they give up is they just get in more trouble and are looking for any excuse to get expelled," he said.

Without the Connections Program, Blackman said, suspended students were just kicked out of school for a week.

"It didn't make sense to us," he said. "I got a kid that's behind on his schoolwork so we send him home for a week and he gets even further behind."

Blackman said the Connections Program this year is funded mainly by a grant from the Blaine County Drug Coalition, but added that "the district is definitely committed to continuing the program."

"I think it's one of the most important things we've done at the high school since I've been here," he said.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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