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NASBE To Urge Against Expelling Disruptive Students

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Rejecting the popular "zero tolerance" position on student weapons possession and school violence, a study group of the National Association of State Boards of Education is set to recommend this week that schools make every effort to avoid expelling disruptive students.

The report, to be released in San Antonio at the association's annual conference, argues that "expulsion without alternatives is not a solution to youth violence."

Disruptive or delinquent students should, "to the maximum extent possible," be kept in their regular schools, the study group writes. At the very least, it says, alternative programs "with strong academic and counseling components" should be provided for students removed from regular schools.

The report's authors urge policymakers not to give in to what they see as the temptation of "fast track" legislation "that may provide money for metal detectors or put some delinquent students out on the street, but do little to change the environments that breed violent behaviors."

The recommendations are especially striking because they run directly counter not only to recent measures in a number of states, but also to federal legislation that has just cleared Congress.

As part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, House and Senate lawmakers agreed to mandate that each state receiving E.S.E.A. funds have a law requiring schools to expel for at least a year students who are caught with guns in school.

The provision survived after it was voted down and prompted a deadlock between members of the House and Senate. (See Education Week, Sept. 28, 1994.)

Last week, HR 6, the bill containing the "gun-free-schools act," received final approval in the Senate. (See related story, page 1.)

A similar provision was included in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act passed earlier this year.

Report: Punish and Prevent

The expulsion provision dismayed Brenda Lilienthal Welburn, NASBE's executive director, who called the move "shortsighted" and "an election-year response" that was aimed at making lawmakers look tough on crime.

"It will not stop the tide of violence among youth," she contended. "It will simply put more youth on the streets."

And in North Dakota, the home state of Democratic Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, a co-author of the gun-free-schools measure, the chief state school officer was unhappy when told of the legislation.

Wayne G. Sanstead, the state superintendent of public instruction, said the federal mandate "flies in the face" of local control. He said he would even consider sacrificing much-needed federal funding in protest.

Congress also adopted language in HR 6 that requires school districts to refer any student who brings a gun to school to criminal or juvenile-justice authorities.

In addition, the legislation carries a provision that increases from 10 days to 45 days the length of time gun-toting disabled students may be placed in an alternative educational setting.

A multi-pronged attack is the only answer for the epidemic of youth violence, the NASBE group contends. Policymakers and educators must balance preventive and punitive measures, it says, and the strategies must target the individual, the home, the school, and the community.

Schools cannot do it alone, the panel says, arguing that the problem demands communitywide solutions. But schools can play a critical role, it suggests, by paying attention to their climate and curriculum.

Indeed, the study group writes that the best deterrent for violence in school is a well-taught, challenging, and engaging curriculum.

Educators can make safe environments for students and teachers part of their school-reform efforts, Ms. Welburn said.

Copies of "Schools Without Fear" may be ordered for $9 each prepaid, plus $2 for shipping and handling, from the National Association of State Boards of Education, 1012 Cameron St., Alexandria, Va. 22314; (800) 220-5183.

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