By Olivia Koester
Anoka-Hennepin has expelled fewer students in recent years.
Seven years ago, the district hit a record high, expelling 133 students during the 2006-2007 school year.
Two years ago, 100 students were expelled by the board, and now, that number has been nearly halved.
Fifty-three students were expelled in 2013-2014.
Expulsions primarily occur at the secondary level, and though it isn’t unheard of for an elementary student to be expelled, it is very rare.
Greg Cole, principal of Compass Programs and administrator in charge of discipline for District 11, attributes the decline of expulsions to modified discipline policy and practice and to several communication strategies teachers are regularly using with students.
In 2012, the discipline policy was updated.
“You run into situations where the policy seems to bump into common sense,” Cole said.
Policy states that secondary students will be automatically referred for expulsion if they are in possession of a weapon on school grounds.
An “administrative discretion” clause was added in 2012 so that if certain conditions are met, select administrators can bypass the automatic expulsion hearing and determine a different punishment for students.
Administrators make a “judgement call” if a weapon is found on school grounds that hasn’t been displayed.
For example, if a student spotted a box cutter in another student’s car and reported it, administrators might question the student who drives the car to discover that he left it in his car by accident after working at a supermarket the night before, Associate Superintendent for High Schools Jeff McGonigal offered. If it was never displayed, the student had no previous record and there was no threat of danger, today, administrators might not put the matter before the school board.
“We’re not subjecting a family to an expulsion hearing when we don’t think it (is) needed,” McGonigal said.
Administrative discretion does not come into play if a gun is brought onto school grounds. Then, a student is automatically referred for expulsion.
Safety is always the number one concern, Cole said.
Culturally responsive teaching and restitution training has helped both teachers and students, Cole said.
Both communication strategies are related. Culturally responsive teaching asks teachers to broaden their perspective, looking at their students’ varied backgrounds and cultures to inform communications with them. Restitution theory calls for teachers to guide their students to ponder the same things about themselves, how their behaviors shape who they are and the decisions they make.
Cole provided an example of these strategies at work during the June 16 school board work session: If a teacher sees a student in the hallway wearing a hat, he or she might ask, “What does school policy say about wearing hats?” rather than the more declarative, “Take that hat off now.”
Teachers have gained confidence and students have been pointed, not pushed, to consult the rules, which will serve them well after graduation when there are still rules to follow, laid down by employers, the government, landlords, etc., according to Cole.
Though Cole could not provide specific data at this time, Anoka-Hennepin is suspending fewer students, too.
He attributes the decline completely to professional development surrounding the communication strategies.
Anoka-Hennepin suspensions are decreasing, but the number of students reporting to the district’s suspension center is increasing. Anoka-Hennepin is giving more students in-district suspensions, rather than sending them home.
Approximately 10-15 students, K-12, are bused to the center to serve out their suspensions daily.
The center, located at Compass’ Bell Center in Coon Rapids, expanded from one classroom to two in 2013-2014.
“We want more kids supervised,” Cole said. “There’s a consequence (to their actions), but there’s a smoother path in and out.”
McGonigal thinks hiring social workers in 2012 and mental health professionals in 2013 has also made a difference in discipline. The social workers and mental health professionals help students better cope with difficult situations, which may attribute to fewer policy violations, McGonigal said.
Contact Olivia Koester at [email protected]