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FOUNTAIN VALLEY : Panel Plan OKd for School Expulsions

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The school district board gave preliminary approval last week to form an administrative panel of principals to handle expulsion hearings.

Currently, trustees hear expulsions, but some believe the task would be better handled by educators.

Board of Trustees President Robert Sedlak supported forming a panel because “I don’t feel all our experience equals the experience of principals” in dealing with students.

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“I think it’s really important to let staff do the job,” he said.

The panel of three principals would act on the board’s behalf during expulsion hearings and report recommendation for expulsions to trustees, said Fern Zahlen Williams, director of student services.

“The board of trustees still has the final say on who is expelled,” Williams said.

Trustees are expected to take final action this month on the administrative hearing panel proposal.

Trustees Barbara Vogel and Catherine Hacker also voted in favor of the panel. Vogel suggested that a trustee be appointed to observe expulsion hearings in order to report back to other board members.

District officials will look into whether it would be legal to appoint a board liaison before trustees take final action.

Trustees Larry Crandall and Julie Hoxsie voted against the proposal. Hoxsie said the responsibility to hear expulsions rests with trustees.

Crandall said he believes it is not in the best interests of the district to set up a panel.

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He said trustees should wait until a revised board policy on zero-tolerance concerning children taking weapons to school becomes effective, and determine what effect the changes will have on the number of expulsions, before handing over the hearings to principals.

“It’s more appropriate to let the new policy take effect,” Crandall said.

The trustees gave final approval on the changes to the zero-tolerance policy on Thursday. The changes were made to give principals a clearer interpretation of when to recommend students for expulsions for taking a weapon onto campus.

Among changes were eliminating the wording of “any knife” in the policy and changing it to “a weapon,” since it seemed confusing which types and sizes of knives would be an expellable offense.

Under the policy, however, if a child takes a weapon to school, the student will face expulsion.

In addition, if two or more students involved in the same incident are expelled, they would be placed at separate campuses “if at all possible.”

This school year alone, 21 students in both regular and special education have committed expellable offenses.

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Eight students have been expelled and assigned to alternative school placement outside the district; five students were expelled but were sent to another school in the district; and one student who came before a hearing was not expelled, said Supt. Ruben L. Ingram.

The remaining students were special-education students, he said. These students could not be brought to a hearing because federal law prohibits conducting expulsion proceedings when the handicapping condition is determined to be related to the offense committed, Ingram said.

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