August 9, 2014

Expulsions in metro-east drop in last 5 years

The number of students expelled at Belleville East High School more than doubled during the last five years, while the number at Belleville West High School has been cut by more than half during the same period.

Belleville District 201 expelled 33 students from East last school year compared with 14 during the 2009-10 school year. The district removed 11 students at Belleville West, compared with 24 five years ago.

A survey by the Belleville News-Democrat found that high school expulsions vary from school to school, and from year to year, but generally, expulsions in public high schools in the metro-east are trending downward.

A total of 146 students were expelled during the 2013-14 school year at the 11 largest high schools in St. Clair and Madison counties: Belleville East, Belleville West, Cahokia, Collinsville, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Granite City, Highland, Mascoutah, O'Fallon and Triad.

Five years ago, during the 2009-2010 school year, the same schools expelled 179 students.

District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said he doesn't know specifically why the number of expulsions shifted in opposite directions at the two schools. The combined enrollment of both schools is about 4,800 students, meaning fewer than 1 percent of students are expelled.

"Expulsion of any kind is something the board takes very seriously," he said.

The district established an Alternative Day School program in August 2012, which might explain why expulsions, at least at Belleville East, have gone up.

Students placed in the alternative program must be expelled from either Belleville East or West by the school board through an expulsion hearing, Dosier said, unless a parent requests their child automatically be put into the Alternative Day School.

"We have to force someone to go into the alternative program," he said. "That could be a factor in it."

The district expects to begin the coming school year with about 50 students attending the Alternative School, but the number can fluctuate throughout the year.

The expulsions at Belleville West and East are comparable to previous years, according to Dosier.

"We are just about the same that we were at last year," he said. "It's about normal."

At least one metro-east school -- Edwardsville High School -- has not expelled any of its approximately 2,500 students in the last five years.

"Overall, there is a culture in District 7 of respect and no tolerance for violence or fighting," Superintendent Ed Hightower said. "We just do not tolerate it."

Like District 201, Edwardsville School District 7 also has an alternative high school, called Edwardsville High School South. Belleville's alternative school was modeled after the Edwardsville program.

But a different policy for meting out discipline might explain why there have been no expulsions in Edwardsville in recent years, but dozens in Belleville.

Students at Edwardsville High School are not expelled and then placed at Edwardsville High School South like students in District 201, who must go through an expulsion hearing to be moved to the Alternative Day School.

Instead, District 7 administrators decide whether a student needs to attend the alternative high school, Hightower said.

"We identify those students who need to be in a smaller environment," Hightower said. "We give them the proper attention and proper supervision."

The number of students expelled from Collinsville High School has, on average, declined during the last five years with nine last school year compared with 16 during the 2009-10 school year.

"We are a little more proactive with how we are approaching the students and trying to intervene before they reach a crisis point," said Robert Green, superintendent at Collinsville Community Unit School District 10.

While Collinsville does not have its own alternative school, students are given the option to attend the Safe School operated by the Madison County Regional Office of Education.

All students expelled last year from Belleville East and West except seven were offered alternative education programs: They could go to the district's Alternative School, the Safe School operated by the St. Clair County Regional Office of Education, or the district's night school. Of the seven, three were expelled from the Alternative Day School and four from the St. Clair County Safe School.

East St. Louis High School, which also had 33 expulsions last year, had a decrease from 44 the previous school year.

Fred Clarke, an official with East St. Louis School District 189, attributed the decline to the district establishing an alternative placement committee, which discusses what alternative arrangements could be made for students in lieu of expulsions.

He also said the district implemented several systems to improve issues such as dress code enforcement, tardiness and passing time in the hallways.

"Our school resource officer has been instrumental in communicating issues that start out in the neighborhoods or on weekends," Clarke said. "As a result, we have been able to head off several potential disruptions by immediately counseling students as soon as they get to school."

Additional training for staff called Positive Behavior Facilitation helped as well. Clarke said it created "a healing environment for our children. (It) also helps relationship building between staff and students, and provides techniques to de-escalate situations before they get to crisis."

Expulsion procedures

There are several steps, outlined by state law, that a public school district must take in order to expel a student.

Once an incident occurs that would warrant expulsion, the student is typically suspended for 10 days pending a hearing by the school board.

"Just because there's a hearing doesn't necessarily mean there will be an expulsion," Dosier said.

For an expulsion hearing to be necessary, a student must have violated the district's code of conduct outlined in the student handbook.

"It's either an act that's of gross misconduct or a student who has gotten into trouble several times," he said. "It's better to be proactive with some students."

After an expulsion hearing takes place, a district hearing officer makes a recommendation to the school board. The hearing officer for District 201 is Bill Stiehl, the district's attorney.

"The board of education hears both sides of the story and any other information that's pertinent to the incident or to the student and makes a determination as to whether or not to expel the student," Dosier said.

Students expelled from District 201 can be offered placement in alternative programs at the discretion of the board. Parents can also choose to send their children to private schools.

"The alternative program at Belleville East has offered us the opportunity to provide another alternative for students," Dosier said.

What other schools do

School administrators were reluctant to talk about the specific reasons for individual expulsions, citing confidentiality, but in general they said expulsions can occur for frequent or severe violations of a school's code of conduct. They include acts of violence, multiple fights, or possessing weapons or drugs.

Other districts that do not operate their own alternative school generally follow the same procedure.

Seven incidents at O'Fallon Township High School during the 2013-14 school year resulted in the expulsion of 14 students, according to O'Fallon District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway. All 14 students were offered placement at the St. Clair County Safe School to continue their education, she said.

During the previous school year, six OTHS students were expelled. Benway said the 2012-13 school year had a "relatively low" number of expulsions.

"The number of expulsions vary from year to year," she said.

Former Granite City High School Principal Skip Birdsong, who is now principal at St. Teresa Grade School in Belleville, said expulsions at Granite City High School were one-third of what they had been the last few years. He attributed the decrease to the hard work of school administrators, the school resource officer, teachers and staff.

"Over the past three years, Officer (John) Redstone and Assistant Principal (Stacie) Miller have done conflict resolutions with many student situations," Birdsong said. "Their hard work has obviously paid dividends, and the students of Granite City High School are the benefactors."

During the 2013-14 school year, 21 students at Granite City High were expelled, down from 51 expelled during the 2009-10 school year.

Granite City Community Unit School District 9 Superintendent Jim Greenwald described Granite City High as a "very well-disciplined school."

Several high schools in the metro-east expelled fewer than a handful of students last school year, including Highland, Triad and Mascoutah.

"We have great students and have very few major issues," said Craig Fiegel, superintendent of Mascoutah School District 19.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or Follow her on Twitter at @BND_JForsythe.


Related content



Editor's Choice Videos