Anchorage school district rethinks drug expulsion policy

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage school officials are taking another look at the district's drug and alcohol expulsion policy, because of concerns that removing students after two violations hurts more than it helps.

On a first offense, students caught trading, buying, using or possessing alcohol, inhalants, illegal drugs or drug-related paraphernalia receive a 10-day suspension, which can be reduced to five days with participation in a drug and alcohol program.

On a second offense, the student is recommended for expulsion, even if the two violations occur years apart.

In Juneau, district regulations call for a suspension of up to 10 days for students caught possessing or using controlled substances. An intervention plan also is developed.

A second offense results in a suspension of up to 30 days, while expulsion is considered following a third offense.

Juneau students face stiffer penalties if they are caught distributing controlled substances. In those cases, students are suspended up to 30 days on the first violation and expelled from the district after a second offense.

In both cases, violations are cumulative from eighth grade through 12th grade.

The Anchorage School Board's policy subcommittee is considering whether to create a program for those students to continue their schooling and receive drug and alcohol treatment. The committee on Thursday heard from about 30 district staffers, school principals and drug- and alcohol-treatment officials about the effectiveness of the existing policy and how a new program could help.

"The challenge for us is doing everything we can to make sure schools are a drug-free environment," said Debbie Ossiander, Anchorage School Board member. "But also our feeling is there are kids who we're using a heavy gun on, who we're not going to see back."

It's a difficult balance. Officials want to hammer home that drugs and alcohol have no place in district schools. But some worry that expelled students fall through the cracks because of a likely lack of support at home to turn their lives around.

Sixty-eight Anchorage high school students were expelled last year for a second drug and alcohol violation. That's down from 77 expulsions during the 1999-2000 school year.

"I believe that students who have been caught a second time need an alternative," Pat Podvin, Service High principal, said at Thursday's meeting. "Is expulsion appropriate? In some cases, it is. In some cases, maybe not. An expulsion will obviously get a family's attention."

Families with time and money can steer a wayward child into private schools or rehabilitation programs. But Podvin and other people said a student with inattentive parents might not get help.

"It's my opinion that the throwaway kids with no advocacy get an unfair process, getting expelled," said Jim Bailey, principal at the school at McLaughlin Youth Center, where incarcerated juveniles live and attend school.

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