SHHS sees more expulsions this year than previous three combined

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

School District 55 just wrapped up the 2005-06 school year with more expulsions than the previous three years combined and with heightened community attention to off-campus student behavior issues.

Off the high school campus, a police investigation resulted in drug-related charges against six teens early in the school year. Toward the end of the year, police charged some 25 teens with second-degree criminal trespass for being on a property posted “keep off” at the corner of 15th and Long streets.

During the year, the district talked with merchants who were concerned about student behavior off campus during lunch, ranging from smoking and loitering to trash problems.

As a result, district officials have been exploring the idea of closing the high school campus.


On campus, the district had 25 expulsions, all but one at Sweet Home High School, Supt. Larry Horton said. The cause of the increase is unclear, officials said.

In 2002-03, the district had six expulsions; in 2003-04, seven; and 2004-05, 10.

One possible cause for the increased expulsions is an increased number of students, said high school Principal Pat Stineff.

“We’re catching a few more kids than we have in the past,” she said.

Another reason may be the fact that school officials can now identify misbehaving students more easily through new technology.

“What I’ve heard from high school administrators, we have video cameras where we can go back and identify students,” Horton said. In the past, administrators could not always figure out who committed inappropriate behavior. The camera system in the hallways has helped them identify those students.

The system also benefits wrongly accused students, he said. It’s “helping some students who had been accused of being guilty being proved innocent.”

Most of the expulsions are related to drugs and alcohol, Horton said. Three were because students brought toy guns to school.

Reducing the amount of drug – mainly marijuana – and alcohol use by students was one of the School Board’s goals for 2005-06, but it’s hard to tell if drug and alcohol use is up or down, Horton said. District staff may be doing a better job of catching students in possession, and the district has been putting more energy into catching students using drugs and alcohol.

“The attitude schools take has changed,” said Stineff, who will begin her 30th year in education next fall. Years ago, students would show up drunk. They would get in trouble but penalties for such behaviour were less severe, she said.

Society has changed and probably has a bigger problem with drugs, which in the past were not such a problem in schools, Stineff said. Schools have gotten more intolerant to drugs and alcohol.

“The reactions are much greater now than they used to be,” Stineff said. Twenty to 30 years ago, students may have been suspended for being drunk at school.

Drug possession now leads to more severe consequences as well, Horton said.

“If they have drugs at school, they are going to be expelled if they’re found guilty of it,” he said.

The law allows the district to expel the students for one year, he said, but the district typically expels them for two trimesters. If they are willing to get involved in counseling, the expulsion may last one trimester.

In the meantime, the law also requires the district to educate the students, Horton said, so the district must find alternatives.

“For some kids, (the expulsion) does mean something,” Horton said. “For some kids, it doesn’t. I think it sends a message to the rest of the students, the district is going to do something about it if kids are guilty.”

“We will continue to be vigilant toward drugs and alcohol and try to change behavior,” Stineff said.

Off-campus behavior

Horton said Stineff and students will work on a September assembly to discuss off-campus behavior with the student body. High school students working on the problem came up with the idea of inviting merchants to the school to explain the problems they are having. That way students are clear on what business owners expect.

“Right now (the campus is) not going to be closed, but we’re going to work really hard with the kids to give them an opportunity to straighten up and fly right,” Stineff said.

Horton said he has talked to three merchants with direct experience with lunch issues at the end of the year, he said. One said there had been no change in behavior.

Another reported a drastic difference in behavior, with students picking up trash, Horton said. Students’ self-monitoring had worked out.

The third said on-site behavior was fine, but as students leave the business, they dart across the road in front of cars, Horton said.

He said he plans to talk with additional merchants.

Stineff said she’s heard that student behavior improved following talk of closing campus.

The district staff is hearing from students that the problems are not the majority of the students, Horton said. “It’s a small minority.”

They don’t want to see all students punished for the actions of a few, he said. They would prefer those who were misbehaving lose their privileges.

If the district needs to come up with more ideas, Horton said, the students have ideas to contribute; and he would like their input.

The problems apparently lie with a group of students that just don’t care and are not really connected with the school in any way, Stineff said, and they won’t change their behavior.

Some students, though, might do some things with their friends they wouldn’t do on their own, she said. If the school can reach those students and change their behavior, it will be a step in the right direction.

Stineff said a student video project aimed at showing the improper behavior was never finished, but, she said, leadership students have gotten involved in the issue, and they “absolutely don’t want to close campus.”