Our recent examination of student expulsions began with an announcement over the Belleville East High School intercom: There were 33 students kicked out of school last year compared to 14 five years ago. We were taken aback, and then a high-profile case involving an Airsoft gun at Belleville West further warranted a close look at student expulsions.
The numbers were all over the place, though there was a general trend downward. What the numbers really seemed to be telling us was that expulsions are a reflection of the tone set by each community's education leaders.
As educators again face the challenges of broad education mandates now embodied by the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the legacy of No Child Left Behind, we are reminded that unless it is a corrupted, dysfunctional system, our local communities best understand the needs of their own children. Set the goals or standards, but allow leeway in how the students arrive at them.
Edwardsville marked five years without any expulsions -- an amazing feat until you see that they segregate the troubled teens into a school with heavy structure and supervision without first expelling them. Belleville set up the same system, but the students must be expelled before they participate.
Local decisions made by local leaders to reflect the local needs and values -- all with local input from parents and voters -- create safety nets and second chances for most teens. Far from "nowhere to go," these kids and their parents have options that may not be easy but may better serve the student's educational and disciplinary needs.