Tuesday, June 13, 2017

TOP STORY >> Expulsions rise in new school district

Leader senior staff writer

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board expelled five students Monday, bringing to 38 the number of expulsions for the new district’s first year.

For all the giant strides the district made this year, discipline looms as a large concern, both in the day-to-day operations of the schools and also as one of five areas where Jacksonville has failed to achieve unitary status, first as part of Pulaski County Special School District and now on its own.

Federal court oversight of both districts continues until they are considered desegregated — unitary — in all areas. That includes student discipline and facilities, and the district is working on both.


The district has not yet parsed all the numbers, but of the 38 students expelled this year, 15 were girls, according to Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Owoh.

On the recommendation of the superintendent, the board expelled 25 five high school students, nine middle school students and four in elementary school.

Pulaski County Special School District, three times larger than JNPSD, expelled only 21 students this year, according to PCSSD Communications Director Deborah Roush. That’s less than two-tenths of 1 percent. Cabot expelled five students.

Wood has said it’s futile to try to compare expulsions between districts.

“I’ll just let the numbers speak for themselves and hope students make better decisions,” Superintendent Tony Wood said.

School administrators can suspend students, but only the board can expel them.


Expulsion is considered the last resort, usually following a string of infractions, interventions and disciplinary actions, according to Wood. An expulsion is the last resort for discipline, in some cases including paddling.

“There are expectations of how young people should conduct themselves so they don’t detract from others,” Wood said. “Our goal has been to follow the student-policy handbook, provide interventions to promote positive, consistent and fair discipline.”

The administrators work through progressive sanctions, starting with a parent conference before moving on to suspensions.

Administrators can suspend students for two to four days, for six days and for 10 days. Paddling is an option when parents have “opted-in,” according to Wood. Many parents would prefer their child  paddled than suspended.

 When appropriate, administrators may send a student to an alternative classroom for in-school suspension—one at the high school, one at the middle school and for elementary school, one at Tolleson.

While any expulsion is one too many, the 38 expulsions amount to less than 1 percent of enrollment, Wood said.


“Next year, I expect a better year as pertains to academics and discipline,” said Owoh, who leaves after June 30 to become the state education department’s assistant commissioner of educator effectiveness and licensure.

“The encouraging thing is the (change) in the environment at both the middle school and the high school from the first 30 days to the last 30 days,” Wood said.

“I talked to students at a couple of basketball games, and a few said we don’t like all these new rules,” Duffie said. Now he hears, “We think we’re getting along better and there are not as many fights.”

The three men say it is important to be fair and consistent in discipline, but that other students deserve an environment free of disruptions and conducive to learning.

Wood said there are many factors affecting student discipline and achievement, including the home environment and expectations both at home and at school.

While Wood said he couldn’t compare this year’s discipline and expulsions to last year, when PCSSD controlled those schools, “I’m confident there would have been more expulsions this year.”


“We deal with the human condition,” Duffie said. “It’s not an exact science. There are so many conditions that impact a child’s life.”

“School’s just a tough business,” Wood said. “If you’re really trying to make a difference, it’s hard work. I hate that we have expulsions, but if no action is taken, we’re not doing our job.”

Administrators work through a hierarchy of progressive sanctions and by the time a student is expelled, he or she has a history of disruptive or even dangerous behavior, Wood said.

Behaviors leading to expulsion can range from fighting or possessing a weapon on school grounds — level IV offenses — down to excessive tardiness or talking disrespectfully to a teacher — level I offenses.

Discipline folders don’t move from one school year to the next unless the student is expelled or on probation. So most students, even those who had problems last year, will have a fresh start for the new school year.


Expulsion is sometimes a progression where the proverbial straw breaks the camel’s back, Wood said, but some times it’s from a single incident, like having a weapon on campus.

A student with repeated level one violations can move onto level two.

JNPSD uses the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports approach to affect student behavior, one that’s been used in Arkansas at schools including J.A. Fair, where Owoh was principal and at Westside Consolidated School District at Jonesboro, where Duffie was superintendent before signing on with the Jacksonville district.


“We started a positive behavior intervention system,” Owoh said. It can include separating students by changing seats or even classrooms, meeting with parents and providing incentives for students who don’t receive disciplinary sanctions.

PBIS includes lower hierarchy approaches, like encouraging students to hold up a red card and going to a quiet part of the room or to see a school counselor or psychologist to cool down.

Meeting with a student’s parents can reveal strategies used at home to defuse potential problems. Teachers can also use incentives to reward students who avoid disciplinary problems, Owoh said.

They can be rewarded with Titan Bucks or points for good behavior that might allow a trip to a “treasure chest,” where they can be redeemed.

Or rewards can include extra time on educational computer games. The middle school had a hotdog party this year for students who had no referrals. Or they could have a dance at the end of school, Owoh said.