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."