Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - July 9, 2010

School community examines the expulsion process

Schools must balance safety with the interest of the student

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton school board, principals and vice principals from every school in the district met in June to discuss new ways to deal with the district's expulsions and suspensions.

The meeting was prompted by concerns from some board members about the number of expulsions and the information provided the board.

"Historically, the board just kind of gives its OK and doesn't really look into the decision," board member Valerie Arkin told the group. "I really look at every case on its own merit."

Arkin acknowledged that the schools have a difficult job: balancing their safety with the best interests of the student in trouble.

Generally, the school board votes unanimously on most issues, but expulsions have been the exception to that rule. In recent months, Arkin and Jamie Hintzke have voted in opposition to a few of the expulsion cases that have come before the board.

"It's pretty much the culture in the district in that you don't question the administrators," Hintzke said. "I really don't want to be a rubber stamper."

The three other board members -- Pat Kernan, Jim Ott and board president Chris Grant -- all said they approved of the policy already in place, which allows administrators to decide when and if an expulsion is warranted.

Harvest Park Principal Jim Hansen acknowledged there had been a lot of expulsion recommendations from his school this year -- five in all -- but said those recommendations only come when every other approach has been tried.

Hansen recently was named principal of Amador Valley High School.

"Our philosophy is to do everything we can to get the child to learn," Hansen said. "We make that recommendation not lightly. For me, it's a positive process for these kids."

That was echoed by other principals and vice principals at the meeting.

"I think we exercise restraint. I feel that lately, every decision we've made has been questioned," said Village High Principal Greg Giglio. "I've seen kids that re-offend and I say, 'What more can I do for this kid?'"

This year there were 33 expulsions from Pleasanton schools. Expulsions usually come with a rehabilitation plan that would allow the student to continue in the district, with a transfer to another district occurring only if the student doesn't comply with the details of the plan. While many of the expelled students are sent to Village, some are moved from Foothill High School to Amador Valley High, or in the opposite direction.

"From my perspective, it's always made sense to move a student from one school to another," said Ott. "You get them out of their environment, out of their circle of friends."

Part of the problem, Arkin said, may be that the board only sees that expulsion recommendation and doesn't know what administrators have already done with the student.

That's being addressed now. Due to requests from the board, school administrators are being asked to provide details about what steps have been taken before asking for an expulsion.

"The high schools have the same discipline plans as the middle schools, which we agreed to over the last few years," said Kevin Johnson, senior director of the district's Pupil Services. "Though you have coordinated discipline plans, when you're dealing with students, principals need to make judgments."

Incoming Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi said communication seems the key to the issue.

"It seems to me that there are some short-term things we are looking at and some long-term concepts," Ahmadi said.

The short-term plan, according to Johnson, is "to increase communication through all parties involved in the expulsion process."

Among the long-term concepts is "restorative justice," which allows for reparations by a student who acknowledges he or she has done something wrong.

"It helps things not happen again and the 're-offend rate' goes down," Hintzke said.

She said restorative justice could remove the stigma that so-called "problem" students acquire "often from the fifth grade on."

Hintzke said vice principals and counselors have expressed interest in restorative justice, but added that the district's budget crisis could make implementing it problematic.

"I definitely think there's an interest," Hintzke said. "How it would really happen or how it would look remains to be seen."

One aggravating factor that can lead to problems for students or spread the stigma of a problem student is technology -- social networking sites, texting and YouTube -- which can help word spread, often inaccurately, according to retiring Hart Middle School Principal Steve Maher.

"There's a shift in access to information," agreed Lauren Kelly, Harvest Park Middle School vice principal, adding that many parents don't realize what their child can see over the Internet or through their smart phone.

"We're seeing sexual harassment issues in seventh grade that we didn't see until the eighth or ninth grade," Kelly said. "There are naughty pictures going around."

Comments

Posted by Sandy Piderit, a resident of Mohr Park
on Jul 9, 2010 at 6:04 am

Another very useful and well-written article.

I would like to learn more about restorative justice. I'm not sure what it means. Sounds like the difference between punishing the kid, and having a serious conversation about the kid's actions. I believe there is an important difference between a kid apologizing because an adult makes the kid say "I'm sorry", and a kid taking the lead in asking for forgiveness.

Also, I wonder how the character development programs in the elementary schools can lay the groundwork so that students can show, in middle and high school, what it means to "admit I have done wrong". Is this happening already in elementary schools? (I think so.) How could it be done even better?

Again, I'm sure this article will prompt a lot of conversation.


Posted by Sandy Piderit, a resident of Mohr Park
on Jul 10, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Guess I was wrong -- no one is commenting on this article.

I found a link with a little more information about the principles of restorative justice, at RestorativeJustice.org:

Web Link


Posted by Greg, a resident of Country Fair
on Jul 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm

School Board Trustees are the communities elected officials to the school district. They should be the voice and perspective of the parents and community that have elected them.
It is frightening that three of the Board members say they rubber stamp the school administrators. As the three bobblehead board members are in the majority, there is no hope for parent or student representation.

Trustee Hintzki and Arkin are the only ones that seem to think for themselves.


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Jul 10, 2010 at 5:47 pm

INMO...this is a boring topic...


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Jul 10, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Correction: IMHO


Posted by Hazel, a resident of Castlewood Heights
on Jul 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Correction. It is not a well written article. It is scattered, poorly organized, and simplistic. Wish it was done well.


Posted by Pleasanton Parent, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 11, 2010 at 7:49 am

Schools should not be teaching character development, parents should. It should just be put into practice and reinforced in the schools. Why we continue to allow our schools to teach things that parents are responsible for is beyond me......just makes for less time and resources on the things schools really should be teaching.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

It does not surprise me that Pat Kernan, Chris Grant, and Jim Ott approve of letting the administrators make the decisions. They do this for all votes. I don't think I have ever seen any of those board members question a staff decision or vote against staff recommendation. With board members like them, the administration is tickled pink as there is really no oversight. I don't know why people like them even run for office, except under the urging of administration so that the staff can run without oversight. If you are not going to question anything, what is the point in being on the Board. The Board is supposed to work for the residents, not the staff. I love the quote "If everybody is agreeing, nobody is thinking."

I am so glad we have two board members, Jaimie Hintzke and Valerie Arkin, who take the time to question things and have the guts to vote against the administration when it makes sense. At this next election we need a third board member who will not just rubber stamp the administration's recommendation. As a resident, I will not even speak at a board meeting anymore. The Tres Amigos will always vote the staff recommendation so coming out to speak is nothing more than speaking at a mock meeting. If you come to a meeting and give a different viewpoint than staff, you will hear the Tres Amigos defend staff and say what great people they are. They obviously do not think the public has any intelligence.


Posted by Maja7, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Jul 11, 2010 at 1:42 pm

The fact that schools are (attempting, anyway) teaching character development is a sad state. If parents were 'doing their job' raising their children, this movement would not even have gotten off the ground. I, personally, resent the whole program. It automatically assumes that my children need to be taught how to be honest, compassionate, etc. This whole community of character 'show' is ridiculous.

One cannont be taught these traits, one has to learn them by example and reinforcement from their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. The argument for this program is that not all families are teaching the characteristics to their children. Yes, that's true. My children are in the classroom, on the playground, etc. with children who need some guidance/discipline. Can we as parents just rise to the occasion and do what we are supposed to do? Raise our children to respect themselves and others!

Oh, how I wish for the days of my childhood....


Posted by April, a resident of Golden Eagle
on Jul 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I do not want anyone else to parent my kids, but I do think as we are teaching our kids civility must be reinforced in schools. Our kids reach an age that for a time their peers have at lease as much or more influence over them as we do.

We should be working together, I do not want teachers or administrators to mandate my parenting.


"The process of educating our youth for citizenship in public schools," the Court explained in Fraser, "is not confined to books, the curriculum, and the civics class." Schools should teach "the habits and manners of civility as values conducive to happiness and indispensable to the practice of self government, personal autonomy and social responsibility.."

It is worrisome that our Trustees do not understand their role as the parent and student representatives.


Posted by Greg, a resident of Country Fair
on Jul 11, 2010 at 4:40 pm

"I feel that lately, every decision we've made has been questioned," said Village High Principal Greg Giglio.

Hey Mr. Giglio, you do not make the decisions, ONLY recommendations, the board is suppose to look critically at your recommendations then make a decision. If three board member do not understand that, then there is NO due process in this district!


Posted by Sandy Piderit, a resident of Mohr Park
on Jul 11, 2010 at 6:30 pm

April, I think we are on the same wavelength.

You wrote, "I do not want anyone else to parent my kids, but I do think as we are teaching our kids civility must be reinforced in schools."

Peer pressure is powerful, and grows more powerful as kids become tweens and then teens. If the expectations we set at home for civility are not reinforced at school, how are our kids supposed to deal with that disconnect?


Posted by Frustrating, a resident of Valencia
on Jul 12, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I think the suspension/expulsion policies of this district are incredibly weak. Unfortunately, I wish the district would take more of a stand when a child does not follow the rules. If you can afford a lawyer, your child will probably not get the same punishment as someone who cannot afford one.


Posted by A Parent, a resident of Country Fair
on Jul 13, 2010 at 7:39 am

Expulsion, as the most drastic measure a school district may take in response to student
offenses, must be exercised with great care.

It is unfortunate that that is not always the case in PUSD.


Posted by Scott Walsh, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jul 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

Greg is a great guy and an effective administrator who is on the front line. Your right, he recommends and does not make higher up decisions. But he runs a great school and his Staff is great. I cannot say the same for Amador and Foothill. Greg has gotten far more experience in dealing with difficulties. I trust his decisions about whether a kid should be expelled over some "Rubber Stamping" School Board Majority or the principals at the two high schools. As for Hansen, it is my experience that problems for are kids start at the Middle School Level, not always in high school. Hansen has been there and experienced. He will be an improvement at Amador, now get rid of the Vice principal/so-called football coach.


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