Baltimore County school district officials asked the Board of Education last night to change its student behavior policies so that expulsion would no longer be the mandatory punishment for certain offenses such as possession of alcohol or a knife.
The change would give administrators the option of assigning students to alternative programs instead of expelling them, particularly in cases involving first-time offenders.
In an interview, Dale Rauenzahn, executive director of student support services, gave as an example a boy who was expelled after an assistant principal saw a knife on the seat of his car in the school parking lot. The boy had accidentally left his hunting and fishing equipment in the car.
In such cases, expulsion can be an overly harsh punishment, Rauenzahn said. A student who brings a knife to school intending to hurt someone would still be expelled.
"This would give us another option and achieve the same thing: Show the kid that for this behavior, there's a consequence," Rauenzahn said. He added that, in a school system with 108,000 students, there are countless scenarios in which automatic expulsion isn't the best option.
Baltimore County schools usually have 1,500 to 1,700 expulsions per year.
The board's policy on disruptive student behavior covers three categories of offenses. The first two categories, for which suspension and expulsion are currently the only options, cover offenses such as fighting, truancy and tobacco use. The third category, for which expulsion is currently mandatory, includes bomb threats and physical attacks on staff members. A second policy mandates expulsion for the possession, use and distribution of alcoholic beverages and drugs.
Under the proposed policy revisions, assignment to an alternative program would be an option for administrators in all cases.
In Baltimore County, expulsion generally means a student is removed from school for one or two marking periods, at which point administrators review the situation. The school system offers students the opportunity to participate in alternative programs during expulsion, and Rauenzahn said they usually take advantage of it.
The difference under the proposed policy changes: Students such as the boy with the hunting equipment could attend alternative programs without expulsions on their records.
Baltimore County has three full-time alternative schools. In the western county, Catonsville Center for Alternative Studies is the alternative high school, while Meadowood Education Center offers middle school. On the east side, the Rosedale/Inverness Center has middle- and high-school programs.
In addition, evening high schools are at four sites, and Towson High School has a Saturday program. The county has "afternoon group learning centers" for middle school pupils, a home-teaching program and "teleclasses," where a teacher conducts a class with students over the phone.
The county's alternative programs serve about 2,000 students, but not all of them are students in trouble. For example, a high school student may choose to make up a failed class in an evening program.
The public will have an opportunity to comment on the issue at a meeting Dec. 21. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal at a meeting Jan. 11.