School Committee Adjusts Suspension and Expulsion Policies

Students+face+detention+as+a+consequence+for+violating+the+schools+Code+of+Conduct.++An+average+detention+will+last+about+one+hour%2C+from+2%3A20+p.m.+to+3%3A20+p.m.+

Students face detention as a consequence for violating the school’s Code of Conduct. An average detention will last about one hour, from 2:20 p.m. to 3:20 p.m.

Anna Van der Linden

Students face detention as a consequence for violating the school's Code of Conduct.  An average detention will last about one hour, from 2:20 p.m. to 3:20 p.m.
Students face detention as a consequence for violating the school’s Code of Conduct. An average detention will last about one hour, from 2:20 p.m. to 3:20 p.m.

The School Committee recently made significant changes to Walpole High’s student discipline policy to better represent the standards set by state law. The policy (Policy JIC), determines the restrictions regarding the suspension and expulsion of students. While the School Committee made primary plans to adjust the policy during a first reading January 15, the changes have now been officially implemented. The goal of the update was to clearly reflect the guidelines in Massachusetts’ State Regulation 603 CMR 53.00, so that all Massachusetts schools follow a similar plan that is fair to all students.

The most significant changes to the policy involve four topics: the education services provided for students during their removal from school, the length of time students can be suspended, hearings and appeals, and the possible reasons for expulsion.  While Walpole High School has unofficially been practicing these changes for the past four years, these developments are now being made official this year.

The new policy now mandates that the school is responsible for a suspended or expelled student’s education, even after his or her removal from the school. Possible services include a tutor, an online plan, or an out-of-district placement.

“Probably four or five years ago was the last time when we had a student who was put out of school without a plan for their education services, so this wasn’t a real change for us, but it’s a big change from 10 years ago,” said Mr. Stephen Imbusch, the Principal of Walpole High School.

In previous years, if a student was on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or on another learning plan, he or she received full educational support after expulsion or suspension from the school, whereas regular students did not. The policy’s changes give everyone the same support.  Mr. Imbusch said, “It is now covering every student, whether you are on an IEP or not, so that’s a major change.”

Additionally, the policy enforces restrictions on the length of an out-of-school suspension. Students can only be suspended from the school for 90 days, as Administration believes an extensive suspension is not successful in pushing a student to change his or her ways.

“Research shows that long term suspensions or expulsions really don’t help,” Mr. Imbusch said, “And the state is encouraging limiting the time that the students spend out of school.”

As another new development to the policy, students can only be suspended for two days before a hearing is required.  A suspended or expelled student must attend a hearing, where Administration addresses the student’s punishment.  Contacting the student’s parents or guardians, the school must also make a significant effort to encourage an adult to attend the hearing.

“Before, I would just meet with the student and say ‘You’re  suspended for what you did,’ but the parents never had that opportunity to come in,” said Mr. Imbusch.

An extension of the hearings, students also will have the right to make an appeal to the superintendent regarding an expulsion or suspension.  These hearing and appeal guidelines clear up confusion about how the punishments will be administered.  Mr. Imbusch said, “It’s good that they have a parent or guardian there to represent them.”

Another note-worthy alteration to Policy JIC involves the reasons why a student can be expelled. The four expulsion justifications are the following: bringing alcohol or drugs to school, bringing a dangerous weapon, assaulting a staff member, or being charged with a felony.  Administration hopes that these restrictions will reduce expulsions drastically, as it is not in the state’s best interest to have young adults out of school, lacking high school degrees.

“It hurts society in general to have a student who doesn’t have a diploma because a student who doesn’t earn a diploma  won’t be as productive and contribute to society as much as someone who does,” said Mr.  Imbusch.

All of the changes to Policy JIC aim to make the policy more sympathetic to students, while still allowing administration to dole out strong consequences when necessary. “I don’t find that any of it is tying my hands behind my back, when  I  think of things  that I need to keep students  safe,”said Mr. Imbusch, “It’s  all  positive.”

The policy underwent a first reading but it also must go through a second reading and an official adoption before it will apply to students in the future.