Parent: Hoffman bill on student expulsions 'doesn't get the job done'

News-DemocratApril 2, 2014 

State Rep. Jay Hoffman.

DERIK HOLTMANN — dholtmann@bnd.com

— A bill that would allow schools to suspend or expel students convicted of certain felony charges cleared the Illinois House by a unanimous vote Wednesday.

The bill originally would have allowed the suspension or expulsion of students who are charged with violent felonies but not yet convicted. The amended version approved Wednesday has been "watered down" and "doesn't get the job done," according to a Belleville East High School parent who has been pushing for the legislation.

The bill, HB 4775, is sponsored by Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, and is a response to a case at Belleville East, where a student was charged in December in connection with an on-campus sexual assault of a female student. A couple of months earlier, the student had been charged with aggravated battery and unlawfully possessing ammunition in Shiloh. The 17-year-old student was free on $75,000 bail at the time of the alleged sexual assault.

The bill, in its current form, would amend the Illinois School Code to allow school districts to "immediately refer or transfer the student to another attendance center or alternative school ... if the student has been charged with a violent felony."

At the time of the alleged sexual assault, the student at Belleville East already was attending the district's Alternative Day School Program in a building on the Belleville East campus. He was placed in that program before he was charged in September.

The bill, in its current form, allows suspension or expulsion only if the student has been convicted in court.

Hoffman said he wishes the bill went further, but there are constitutional issues and practical issues surrounding whether a school can suspend or expel a student who is merely charged with a crime, not convicted.

The Illinois School Management Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of school boards and school administrators, had opposed Hoffman's bill in its original form. The group had argued that the bill would put school boards and administrators in the position of being law enforcers who would have to keep track of whether students get into trouble outside of school.

Ed McCann, of Swansea, who has two children attending Belleville East, contacted Hoffman early this year about getting legislation that would allow schools to kick out students while they're facing serious criminal charges.

"The bill was written that way when it was first submitted," McCann said. "It looks to me like this latest version just takes it back to where the student is put in an alternative school -- right on campus. This doesn't get the job done."

Hoffman said the amended bill still "will go a long way" toward keeping schools safe. He said it makes two important changes:

* School superintendents will have expanded authority to place a student who is charged with a violent felony into an alternative school. Current law requires schools to first jump through various hoops before such a placement can be made, Hoffman said.

* A student convicted of a violent felony can be expelled even if the crime took place away from school and was not school-related. Under current law, it's difficult to expel a student if the crime did not take place at school and was not school-related, Hoffman said.

Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said: "There are some things in the amended bill that will be helpful to school administrators, and I appreciate Rep. Hoffman working on this. I prefer his original bill, but I understand that when you're making laws, there have to be some compromises sometimes."

McCann said the original bill was modeled after a Massachusetts law that allows suspension or expulsion of students while their charges are pending in court.

"Their law specifically allows suspension or expulsion when a student is charged with violent felonies. It's very clear about that," McCann said.

House members voted 112-0 to pass the bill, which now goes to the Senate.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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