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Expulsions Down in Charleston County

By Diette Courrégé
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Charleston County school leaders have been trying for years to get their classrooms under control, and they say this past school year's record-low number of expulsions proves those efforts are working. They attributed the decrease to a combination of factors, such as expanding the use of behavior-improvement programs, better-behaved kids,and more alternatives for the ones who misbehave.

The district expelled only 46 students in 2011-12, making it the fourth consecutive year that figure has dropped.  It's the lowest number of expulsions in at least seven years, and a far cry from the 179 students expelled in 2005-06.  The district enrolls about 45,000 students, so that means about one-tenth of 1 percent of students were expelled.

"I don't see how we can get any better than this," said school board Chairman Chris Fraser. "We are statistically at zero."

District officials reported the expulsion numbers in a presentation Monday night to the county school board. Board member Chris Collins asked the board to applaud the administration for its accomplishment, and he said later this shows that schools are trying to work with students to keep them in classrooms.  "If they're out of school, they may get in trouble or become juvenile delinquents," he said. "A child in school can learn, and that means more kids will have an opportunity to graduate and have a career and productive life."

Charleston is the second-largest district in the state, and its expulsion numbers are lower than its two biggest neighboring districts. Dorchester 2's figures have been about the same for the past four years, while Berkeley County has seen a steady decrease.

In Charleston, Superintendent Nancy McGinley said teachers started giving lessons to elementary-aged students seven years ago on how to behave in school. Students have responded to that program, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, and its positive reinforcement, she said.  "We're seeing students coming up through the system with better self-discipline."

The district also has enhanced its options for students who have behavior problems. For example, the Twilight program is a computer-based classroom setting for students with less-serious behavior problems, and the Summit program is another computer-based program for students who were recommended for expulsion.  McGinley said those options have been key in allowing students to do their work in a site that doesn't disrupt other students.

Schools referred 534 students to the Office of Student Placement, which handles students with serious or multiple offenses. That office has worked to find alternatives for students to allow them to remain in a school setting, said Associate Superintendent Lisa Herring.  More than half of those expelled - or 26 students - were enrolled in the Daniel Jenkins Creative Learning Center, which is the district's alternative school for middle school students.

Constituent boards have the final say on deciding whether to expel students. The Office of Student Placement recommended 110 students for expulsion to those boards, and the boards expelled 46 of them. Still, officials said they didn't think students who needed to be expelled were being kept in county schools.

"The violence in the schools has gone way, way down, so these kids who are there, most of them want to learn," Collins said.

Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.

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