"It's the higher-order incidents -- drinking and drugs -- that we seem to be having a problem with," Foothill High School Principal John Dwyer said at a recent meeting between the school board, principals and vice principals. Dwyer said he'd seen an increase in both on-campus and off-campus incidents in the 2009-10 school year.
Ten students were expelled from Foothill this year, and another 107 were suspended. Eight students were expelled from Amador Valley High School, with 110 suspended. Horizon suspended eight students but had no expulsions, while Village expelled five students and suspended 95.
"Village has a reputation," said Greg Giglio, principal of the continuation high school. "Do (some of) our kids do drugs? Absolutely. Do they do them at school? Not so much, because we have a small campus."
Expulsions and suspensions do not only take place at the high school level. Five students were expelled from Harvest Park Middle School in the 2009-10 school year, with 51 students suspended. While none of the other middle schools expelled anyone, there were a total of 198 students suspended: 83 at Hart Middle School; 45 at Pleasanton Middle School; and 19 at Opportunity Middle School, which is one classroom at Village High for students who are not successful in a traditional middle school setting.
Current reports did not show the reasons behind the suspensions and expulsions, but data from the 2008-09 school year shows 18 expulsions and another 373 suspensions for drugs, including alcohol, and violence. That data also shows five expulsions under the category "persistently dangerous." In all, the district of 14,773 students expelled 23 and suspended 724 in 2008-09.
The PUSD discipline plan, posted on the district's website, contains information parents might not know. For example:
* Students can be questioned by police without a parent's consent or knowledge;
* Schools do not have the right to have someone sit in on the police questioning, but may ask that a staff member be present;
* Lockers, cars parked in the school's lot, backpacks and even a student may be searched by a school employee without consent.
Still, when it comes to expulsions, Pleasanton Middle School Principal John Whitney said, "We don't do them with arrogance, we do them with humility."
By comparison, in the 2008-09 school year, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, with a total of 13,089 students, expelled 48 and suspended 2,604. San Ramon Valley Unified School District, with 26,939 students, had 14 expulsions and 971 suspensions in 2008-09; and Fremont, a school with 32,083 students, expelled 52 and suspended 2,294 the same year.
The California Department of Education has a list of actions that require expulsion if they take place at a school. Those include possession of a firearm without prior written permission, brandishing a knife at another person, selling a controlled substance, committing or attempting to commit a sexual assault, and possession of an explosive.
The rules are more vague when it comes to less serious activities. An expulsion matrix shows that an administrator "shall recommend expulsion" if, while at school, a student causes "serious physical injury" to someone, except in self defense; possesses a "knife, explosive or other dangerous object of no reasonable use to the pupil"; possesses or uses a controlled substance "except for the first offense for possession of not more than one ... ounce of marijuana"; robbery or extortion; or assault or battery or threat of either on a school employee.
In those cases, the state Department of Education says an expulsion is expected -- but not required. In addition, it's entirely at the school administration's discretion to expel a student for a host of items, either committed at school or on the way to or from school.
Some of the discretionary expulsions are identical to ones on the prior list: injuring another student, possessing "dangerous objects," possessing drugs or alcohol, robbery or extortion, sexual harassment, bullying, hazing, theft and a list of lesser acts, from possessing tobacco and swearing, to disrupting staff, receiving stolen property, and possession or sale of drug paraphernalia.
Both the "shall expel category and the "may expel" category depend on whether prior efforts at discipline were successful and whether "the presence of the pupil causes a continuing danger to the physical safety of the pupil or others."
There's also the issue of appeals. A teacher will generally bring an issue to a vice principal, who will decide if it warrants an expulsion. If so, that vice principal will forward it to the principal, who will decide whether to send it to the district's senior director of Pupil Services, Kevin Johnson, who will review it and pass it on to the school board. However some parents will take their appeals directly to a school board member.
"We seem to have an appeals process that seems to be gaining momentum," Foothill Principal Dwyer said, adding, "We shouldn't underestimate the impact that discipline has."
There are also parents who threaten lawsuits over their expelled student.
"It's not very common, but it happens," Johnson said.