HD32 - Student Discipline Statutes
The Commission on Youth undertook the study of student disciplinary statutes to examine ways to clarify the statutes and provide more consistency while ensuring due process and maintaining the discretion of local school boards. In addition to the introduction of House Joint Resolution 186 during the 2000 General Assembly Session, House Bill 1179 was introduced in which numerous changes to the disciplinary statutes were presented. Both House Joint Resolution 186 and House Bill 1179 were contemplated during this study.
Upon receipt of the Speaker's letter, the Commission on Youth redefined and narrowed the scope of the study. While the scope was not limited to "technical" changes, extensive changes to disciplinary policies were not anticipated. However, substantive issues were revealed while developing definitions for commonly used terms or addressing inconsistencies in disciplinary procedures among school divisions. Thus, the recommendations reflect both organizational changes designed to clarify disciplinary statutes, as well as some changes in disciplinary policies.
In conducting the study, Commission staff researched and analyzed applicable Federal and Virginia laws, examined local student conduct codes, convened four meetings of a twenty-one member advisory group, and sought input from division superintendents.
Based upon an analysis of existing law, local student conduct codes, and the input and expertise of the advisory group, the following recommendations are offered:
Commonly used disciplinary terms are not defined in the Code of Virginia. Instead, custom and practice have dictated the use of the terms creating inconsistencies in local practice.
Amend the Code of Virginia to include the following definitions:
• Short-term suspension means any disciplinary action wherein a student is not permitted to attend school for 10 school days or less.
• Long-term suspension means any disciplinary action wherein a student is not permitted to attend school for more than 10 school days but less than 365 calendar days. Pursuant to local school board policy, a student who has been long-term suspended may be permitted or required to attend an alternative education placement or program provided by the local school division.
• Expulsion means any disciplinary action wherein a student is not permitted, by a school board or committee of the school board, to attend school within a school division and is ineligible to apply for readmission for 365 calendar days after the date of the expulsion. At the discretion of the local school board, an expelled student may be permitted or required to attend an alternative education program provided by the local school. Petitions for readmission may be submitted, 365 calendar days after the date of the expulsion, in accordance with the procedures set forth in section ----- (to be named later) and any procedures established by the local school board.
• Exclusion means the denial of admission by a school board in Virginia of a student who has been expelled or long-term suspended for more than 30 calendar days by another school board or a private school in this Commonwealth or in another state or for whom admission has been withdrawn by a private school in this Commonwealth or in another state. At the discretion of the local school board, an excluded student may be permitted or required to attend an alternative education program provided by the local school.
• An alternative education program includes, but is not limited to, night school, adult education, or any other educational program designed to offer instruction to students for whom the regular program of instruction may be inappropriate.
B. FACTORS FOR CONSIDERATION IN EXPULSIONS
It is within the discretion of each school division to determine for which offenses and under what circumstances a student will be expelled for a violation of local school board policy. As a result, there may be inconsistencies in the issuance of expulsions among school divisions in Virginia.
The Code should be amended to include a list of factors to be considered by the division superintendent prior to a decision to expel a student. Language similar to the following is recommended:
Before making a recommendation for expulsion for violations other than those specified under Virginia Code section 22.1-277.01 (Gun Free Schools Act) and section 22.1-277.01:1 (Drug Free Schools Act), a superintendent shall consider, but not be limited to, the following factors:
1. Nature and seriousness of the violation
2. Degree of danger represented to the school community
3. Disciplinary history, including the seriousness and number of prior violations
4. The appropriateness and availability of an alternative education placement or program
5. Age of the student
6. Grade level
7. Results of mental health, substance abuse or special education assessments
8. Record of previous intervention attempts
9. Attendance record
10. Academic record
11. Other factors as appropriate
No decision to suspend or expel a student shall be reversed on the grounds that the superintendent failed to consider any of the factors specified in this section.
Nothing in this section shall be deemed to preclude a school board from considering these factors as special circumstances authorized in Virginia Code section 22.1-277.01 (Gun Free Schools Act) and section 22.1-277.01:1 (Drug Free Schools Act).
C. SCHOOL BOARD AFFIRMATION OF EXPULSION
Unless a student, who has been recommended for expulsion, takes advantage of the hearing before the school board or its committee, formal action by the school board to expel the student may not occur and technically the child would not be expelled.
• Amend the Code to specify that a school board (or school board committee, if provided by regulations) must affirm each expulsion, regardless of whether the student has exercised his/her right to appeal. It is recommended that this be placed in the section dealing with expulsion procedures.
D. READMISSION AFTER EXPULSION
School boards that are required to admit expelled students express concern that they must admit students whom the expelling school boards will not re-admit and may even view as a danger. This inequity in admission requirements is viewed as a significant issue.
• Amend the Code of Virginia to allow a school board to exclude a student, regardless of the offense for which they were expelled or suspended, but continue to require that the school board find that the student poses· a danger to students or staff.
• Amend the Code of Virginia to eliminate the one-year maximum on exclusion when the student was expelled or admission was withdrawn. The limit on the length of an exclusion of a suspended student would not change and would continue to be limited to the length of the suspension.
Upon expulsion, an expelling school board may set terms and conditions for the re-admission of the expelled student. Under existing law, if that student applies for admission in another school division and the school board chooses to exclude, at the end of the exclusion, the student must be admitted, thereby allowing the student to avoid meeting any of the terms and conditions set by the expelling school board.
• Amend the Code of Virginia so that local school boards may accept or waive any or all of the conditions for readmission imposed by the expelling school board.
E. NOTIFICATION OF ADJUDICATION OR CONVICTION
Several issues related to Virginia Code section 16.1-305.1 (disclosure of disposition in certain delinquency cases) were raised. In consideration of the limited nature of this study, an extensive and substantive review of these issues was beyond the purview of this study. Likewise, because coverage of such topics was not anticipated, representatives from the judicial branch, necessary for a thorough review, were not included.
• The Superintendents-Judges Liaison Committee should address issues of concern regarding the communication of information contained in reports to superintendents made pursuant to Virginia Code section 16.1305.1. Specific issues include the need for school boards to be informed of the adjudication or convictions of students in their division, confidentiality of these reports, oversight of the superintendent in making or failing to make disciplinary recommendations in these matters, and the consistency of the disciplinary recommendations made in these cases.
On occasion, a student is adjudicated or convicted of a crime that is reportable to the superintendent pursuant to Virginia Code section 16.1-305.1, but prior to the submission of the report to the superintendent, the student moves from the division and applies for admission in another school division. The concern is that the original jurisdiction does not know to where the child moved and no action related to the report is taken. Also, the receiving school division is unaware of the criminal offenses since the report is not a part of the scholastic record.
• The Superintendents-Judges Liaison Committee should address this gap to determine if any changes to procedures or the law are necessary, while balancing the student's right to confidentiality and the school board's desire to ensure a safe school environment.
F. PERMISSION OR REQUIREMENT TO ATTEND AN ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION PROGRAM
There may be situations in which it is appropriate to allow a student who has been expelled to attend an alternative education program, rather than prohibit school attendance within the division. Similarly, for students who have been long-term suspended, requiring attendance at an alternative education program may prevent students from engaging in potentially harmful behaviors and reduce the likelihood that the student will be retained in their current grade.
• The Code of Virginia should be amended to provide the following authority to local school boards: A student who has been long-term suspended or expelled may be permitted or required to attend an alternative education program provided by the school division. Also, such a statement should be included in the definitions of long-term suspension, expulsion, exclusion, and in the section that sets forth the procedures for readmission of suspended and expelled students (currently Virginia Code section 22.1-277.03).
G. PROPERTY VIOLATION
Virginia Code section 22.1-276 states that pupils shall be required to reimburse the school board for any actual breakage or destruction of property owned by or under the control of the school board. This section does not specify that pupils are responsible for the value of items they fail to return.
• Amend Virginia Code section 22.1-276 by adding "failure to return property owned by or under the control of the school board" to the list of actions for which a student is required to reimburse the school board.
H. EDUCATION AND TRAINING
A number of concerns identified in this study resulted from a lack of understanding of existing law or inconsistent application of existing procedures. Amending the Code was not seen as a necessary or desired approach to these concerns.
• The Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia School Board Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, and the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals should provide opportunities for education and training to school divisions or their constituents, as appropriate, on the student discipline provisions of the Virginia Code and the use of the discretion afforded to local divisions.
I. STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION
Title 22.1, Chapter 14, Article Three of the Code of Virginia which deals with Discipline has been amended numerous times over the years. While these amendments have produced the desired substantive results, they have also contributed to a piecemeal construction that is difficult to use and understand, especially for parents, school administrators and school board members who mayor may not have legal training.
• Title 22.1, Chapter 14, Article Three of the Code of Virginia should be reorganized to improve the usability of this section.
School administrators, school board members and parents find it cumbersome to read the sections of the Code pertaining to discipline when there are frequent cross-references to other Virginia Code sections not located in Title 22.1. While it is understood that there is no substitute for the thorough reading of all referenced Code sections, it is felt that inclusion of descriptive phrases would act as a reminder of the content of those referenced sections and would reduce the need to access those sections.
• It is recommended that the titles of the referenced Virginia Code sections be added as descriptive phrases in the following Code sections:
• In section 22.1-277.01 descriptive phrases should be added for sections 18.2-308.1 and 18.2-308.
• In section 22.1-277.01:1 descriptive phrases should be added for section 18.2-247.
• In section 22.1-277.02 descriptive phrases should be added for section 16.1-305.1.
• In section 22.1-277.1 descriptive phrases should be added for section 16.1-305.1.
J. ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION
Alternative education is an important component in the education of students who have been disciplined. Three aspects of alternative education received attention.
FUNDING FOR ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION PROGRAMS
Based upon the findings of a 1999 study by the Commission on Youth and the Virginia Department of Education (House Joint Resolution 242), a $17 million budget amendment to support alternative education statewide was presented to the 2000 Session of the General Assembly. Only a small portion, $400,000, of the approximately $17 million requested was appropriated in the first year for a grant program providing alternative education in the elementary schools. The need for additional support of alternative education remains and the findings made in the 1999 House Joint Resolution 242 study continue to be appropriate.
• The Commission on Youth should submit a budget amendment based upon the findings made in the 1999 House Joint Resolution 242 study which would enable existing alternative education programs to address unmet needs.
PREPARATION OF ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION TEACHERS:
Teachers in alternative education settings benefit from pre-service or in-service training that focuses on skills needed to manage and instruct at-risk youth and exceed those necessary to teach a particular subject matter.
• The Virginia Department of Education should support and explore the development of undergraduate and graduate-level programs, not for certification or licensure, but similar to those at George Mason University, which offer professional education courses with an emphasis in alternative education.
• The Virginia Department of Education should support and encourage the availability of in-service training courses, which address the specific needs and concerns of alternative education teachers.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY FOR INSTRUCTION IN ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION PROGRAMS:
Two issues drive the following recommendation. The first is the need for an alternative method of instruction for students, who, due to security and safety concerns, are felt to be inappropriate for a classroom setting. The second is the need to provide instruction in the most cost-effective manner to students who have been long-term suspended or expelled.
• The Virginia Department of Education should explore the development of a statewide curriculum using interactive educational software, which meets Standards of Learning requirements.