While it’s clear that Kern County schools have the highest expulsion rate in the state, what’s not so clear is what our schools are doing with the kids they expel.
The county expels more students than even much-larger nearby Los Angeles and Fresno counties, and according to data reported by schools to the California Department of Education, Kern County is home to just three percent of California students, but was responsible for 14 percent of the state’s total of 18,648 expulsions. The county expelled 2,578 of its 173,365 students in 2010.
Because of its no-nonsense approach, Kern High School District ended up with an expulsion rate of nearly 15 students for every 1,000 pupils last year according to an iWatch News analysis of California’s discipline data for 2010-2011. That’s a rate four times greater than California’s average for the same year, and more than seven times the national average for 2006, the most recent year available.
That is not the kind of information the school public relations department is likely to advertise, but it does not necessarily reflect badly on the system. It may be taken as a sign that educators are serious about keeping our schools safe and enforcing the so-called zero tolerance policies that have been set in place.
And since the various school districts define expulsion differently, it’s not clear whether student behavior really is that much worse in Kern County than any place else.
“It’s basically a handful of kids here at our school; roughly only about one percent of the student population,” said Kern Valley High School principal John Meyers. “I think it reflects the district’s strict policies, but I also think we have some rough kids in some rough neighborhoods, and sometimes they do things that force us to expel them.”
One example of that would be a student that has committed numerous offenses, and has failed to respond to graduated disciplinary actions including independent study programs, retention classes or opportunity classes. All of these are designed to provide additional time and support to “problem students” in lieu of expulsion.
Meyers also added that depending on the severity of the offense, some students can opt for an online education setting, while others can sometimes be transferred to Bakersfield schools. However, the latter is not a very popular solution, due mainly to both public and private transportation concerns.
For the most part, school principals are bound by education code on expulsions, but do have some discretion to manage campuses.
“We do not expel students for truancy, dress code violations, or cell phone policy issues,” says Kern High School District assistant superintendent of instruction Michael Zulfa. “Those would be typically handled with at-home or at-school suspension, Saturday work programs, or detention.”
However, the district reacts much more firmly when dealing with what they refer to as one-act offenses,such as a student being in a possession of an illegal narcotic or committing a violent act against another student or school staff member.
Of the 2,578 expulsions in Kern County, 70 percent were drug-and violence-related, recent state figures show. That is less than most other California counties, where those numbers soar to 80 and 90 percent.
According to Meyers, those drug-and-violence related offenses are considered serious violations, and will put students on the fast track to being expelled for a semester, and in some cases, and entire academic year.
So while it seems pretty obvious why students are expelled, it’s not always apparent where they end up.
Unlike some, the Kern High School District has not fallen behind at finding alternatives to kicking kids out of school and leaving them to their own devices.
“We never deny an education in any way,” says Meyers, “just to change the scenery because of the students inability to follow the rules.”
One of those changes in the Kern River Valley being Summit Continuation School, the second being one of the nine county community schools — five of which serve KHSD students—run by Kern County Superintendent of Schools, for students that are expelled for far more serious offenses.
But while expulsions may preserve classroom safety, what is being done during the removal of a student to prepare them to go back to school, or to help them change the behavior that got them kicked out in the first place?
Zulfa says, that the district views expulsions as a tool to help turn problem students around, and that there are many advantages when a difficult student is transitioned over to a smaller populated continuation or community school environment.
Some of those being the amount of special resources and attention that can be spent on each individual student in comparison to a larger comprehensive school atmosphere.
Take into consideration a recent example of a student that was sent to a continuation school after being expelled for fighting, where they were subsequently caught in possession of illegal drugs.
The student was then sent to the county community school where it was immediately determined that the student required counseling for substance abuse. The student was placed into a treatment facility for detoxification and counseling, and was later placed back into the community school where they were allowed to continue their education.
“It’s bad that that kid got kicked out of school,” said Zulfa, “But it’s really good that kid is not on drugs anymore and is graduating from high school.”
While it is true that in extreme cases that students can be expelled more than once in a school year, or for more than a year, the Kern High School District reports that 90 percent of the students placed in continuation or community schools return to their school of residence for graduation.
“Our ultimate goal is not only to provide a book education, but also to provide a social education,” said Zulfa. “It doesn’t do us much good if we do graduate kids at 18-years old, but put them out into a society that they are not ready for.”
“Expulsions are a last-resort, and it is my belief that we need to continue to work with students to ensure they have the skills to be successful and productive citizens.” Administrator, KRVR.org firstname.lastname@example.org
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