Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 2, 2000
Expulsions up in city schools
Move to different school often helps the offender
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
There's been a sharp rise in the number of students expelled or suspended from Edmonton Catholic Schools in the past year.
But that doesn't necessarily mean more kids are breaking the rules, according to school division officials.
A recently-released division report shows a total of 57 expulsions or suspensions of more than five days over the 1999-2000 school year. That's an increase of more than 50 per cent from the year before.
The most common reasons were assault on another student (21 cases), and disrespectful behaviour, including thefts, fights or threats (16 cases). Nine students were suspended or expelled for possession of a weapon.
Rick Dombrosky of school operations services says the increase can be attributed to the fact that senior high school principals were directed last year to follow up more closely on expulsions and suspensions, "and the numbers say very clearly to us that that is happening."
The board has not adopted the term "zero tolerance," Dombrosky says, but the intent is clearly that all incidents of inappropriate behaviour will be formally addressed.
"There's a double message we're sending. We're saying to parents that their kids are safe here . . . and at the same time, when there are incidents that we would consider serious, they will be dealt with, and the students will learn that there are consequences to their actions."
In most cases, the consequences include being transferred to another school or an alternative program in the division.
"Usually, transfer works for a lot of students who relish a change. They are trapped in a series of behaviours, and the opportunity to move to a different environment is welcome," Dombrosky says.
Principals have the last word in deciding to expel or suspend a student, he adds. Each school has its own student conduct policy, developed and reviewed regularly by school administrators and parents.
But they are guided by a division-wide policy on student conduct, which reflects the school division's beliefs.
In part, the policy states "believing that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, the division recognizes all are capable of good and therefore, inappropriate behaviour is challenged but the individual is affirmed.
"As members of a Christ-centred learning community, the actions of all focus on service to one another with emphasis on growth and transformation rather than restitution and expediency."
The policy also refers to the need for a "safe, nurturing learning environment" for all students.
Safety is a significant factor in the adoption of a "zero tolerance" policy toward violent or threatening behaviour, a term which has become popular, but is not used by either school board in Edmonton because it is not clearly defined.
"Zero tolerance means different things to different people" says Dennis Huculak, supervisor of leadership services for Edmonton Public Schools.
"It doesn't mean that you necessarily move to the most intrusive action right off the bat. What we want it to mean to all our staff is that when you see inappropriate behaviour, you take action."
Edmonton Public has experienced a similar rise in expulsions recently, from under 100 a few years ago to 195 last year. As with Edmonton Catholic, the increase is due in part to the district's efforts to be more consistent in implementing its student conduct policy, Huculak says.
Although some of the students expelled or suspended are the same from year to year, Dombrosky says, the number is low, and the board's policy "is working fairly well for us.
"A lot of them learn an important lesson. Especially in junior high, these students are testing their limits to see how far they can go. For them, it's a big thing to state that we are not accepting this behaviour, and we are not welcoming them in school for a few days."