Rock Hill students facing expulsion should no longer be out of school for long periods awaiting a decision on their fate.
Students who are expelled are asked to come before a district hearing officer, who will decide if their expulsion will be upheld. Students may also appeal the hearing officer’s decision to the school board.
The Rock Hill school board made a policy change last year that inadvertently led to long periods out of the classroom for students who did not have a final answer on whether their expulsion would be upheld.
The Rock Hill school board approved on June 26 an updated policy for how student expulsions will be handled.
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District officials want to ensure parents and legal guardians are made aware of expulsion hearings faster by communicating, by phone and in writing, the time and place a student is to report to a district hearing officer.
The new policy also shortens the time an expelled student appears before a hearing officer to within five school days after a particular incident. That shortens the process overall, said School Board Chairman Jim Vining.
“Our goal was to minimize time away from the education environment,” Vining said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Our goal was to minimize time away from the education environment.
Jim Vining, Rock Hill school board chair
The changes come after several expelled students in Rock Hill schools had been cut off from education for nearly two months while officials decided whether to uphold the expulsions, Vining said.
The school board voted in October that hearing officers could not approve sending students to the alternative education program, Vining said. However, hearing officers, who are third-party non-district employees hired to hear expulsion cases, could decide whether expulsions would be upheld.
District leaders believed the change meant cases where students could go to the alternative school would have to come before the school board, a process that can take weeks, Superintendent Kelly Pew said.
Vining said that was not the intent of the October decision.
“If a student is expelled, they cannot go to another district, they cannot enroll in the virtual school that South Carolina has, they cannot enroll in most online schools and most home school associations will not accept them,” he said. “That’s not acceptable to the board. Most of kids that get in trouble don’t need to miss any school and some of the hearings we’ve heard, kids have been out a long time even before they (meet with) a hearing officer.”
Suspensions and expulsions are often associated with higher dropout rates, poor academic performance and future suspensions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a U.S. Department of Education entity that analyzes education data.
Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett says time away from school often lands juveniles in prison.
“They get in trouble in school, then they get in more trouble, then they get suspended, then they get expelled, then they end up in Family Court, then they become 17 years old and they end up in General Sessions Court,” said Brackett, who represents the 16th Circuit, which includes York County. “It just becomes this conveyer belt.”
In May, the school board considered a policy change to reflect that the superintendent, or a designee, can recommend expelled students to the alternative education program. The now-approved policy gives that power back to hearing officers, undoing the change made in October.
Hearing officers have discretion to uphold an expulsion, overturn an expulsion and send the student back to his or her assigned school, or recommend a student to the alternative program in lieu of expulsion, Pew said.
Rock Hill school board member Windy Cole said students should think before they act. She said it is sad to see students come before the board realizing they have been kicked out of school and may not have a bright future.
“I wish all of the students would realize the consequences of their actions,” Cole said. “Don’t make dumb mistakes.”
I wish all of the students would realize the consequences of their actions. Don’t make dumb mistakes.
The school district also has included in the updated expulsion policy specific criminal acts that may make a student ineligible for the alternative program. These include a firearm on campus, selling or distributing drugs on school property or within a one-half mile of school grounds, brandishing a weapon, threatening to take the life of or harm a teacher, principal or members of their family and serious crimes in the community.
Also, a student can appeal the expulsion regardless of whether he, or she, is accepted to an alternative program, Pew said.
That process can take weeks as it includes time built-in for legal reasons, such as the number of days the hearing officer is afforded to make a decision and the time given for appeals, Pew said. If students are incarcerated because of their actions, that also adds time to the process.