BY KELLY JOHNSON
Some changes have been made to a pair of policies in Anoka-Hennepin District 11.
The changes, which were approved last week by the school board, include modifications to the district’s weapons and tobacco use policies.
Streamlining the process for addressing expulsion referrals related to possession of knives, box cutters and razor blades on school property is the biggest change to the weapons policy.
Under the revised policy, administrative review of certain weapons violations would be allowed rather than an automatic referral to the school board for expulsion.
According to Greg Cole, Compass programs principal, the rationale for the change in policy lies in the decisions of the school board over the last two school years regarding weapons violations associated with knives, box cutters and razor blades.
During the 2010-2011 school year, the board reviewed 41 weapons violations for possible expulsion, according to Cole. Of those violations, the school board decided to return 10 students to their neighborhood school immediately under probationary conditions.
During the 2011-2012 school year, 24 weapons violations were reviewed, with nine students immediately returned to their neighborhood school under probationary conditions.
The revised policy allows automatic referral to the school board if certain circumstances are present when a student is found in possession of a knife, box cutter or razor blade on school property.
These include a threat or intent to use the object, the object was found in the school building or if administrators know it was in the school building at one time, a search was done specifically for the said item, the item is also an illegal one and if the student has a discipline record involving harassment, bullying, physical aggression, fighting or a previous expellable offense.
According to Cole, if none of these items is found to be present, the matter would still be referred to the principal of the Compass programs for possible expulsion.
A meeting would be held with the family of the alleged offender to review the case.
If, after that meeting, it is confirmed that none of these items were present, the associate superintendent and the building principal would review the matter and determine whether it should be referred to the school board for expulsion or whether a lesser discipline would be recommended.
"This would ensure consistency," Cole said.
"While our priority is keeping students safe, our number one goal is to educate them," said School Boardmember Marci Anderson at the May 21 school board meeting where the revised policy was introduced.
Another change to the weapons policy was made regarding chemical irritants, such as mace or pepper spray. These are considered weapons but students are allowed to bring them to school if parents make special arrangements with the principal to check them into the office while on school property.
Under the revised policy, students would be allowed to bring these without making special arrangements, which according to Cole would not result in diminished safety at district schools.
The final policy change approved by the school board related to tobacco under the code of student conduct.
Currently the policy states that students may not possess or use tobacco in any form.
The revised language will include nicotine products, electronic cigarettes or look-a-likes in any form.
According to Cole, these products have nicotine in them but were allowed under the old policy because they do not contain tobacco.