Permanent expulsions eliminated from Bibb School System

Students who are consistently disruptive or who commit especially bad acts were permanently expelled from Bibb County schools in past years, but not any more.

Bibb County eliminated permanent expulsion as an option starting last school year, said Ed Judie, the assistant superintendent for student affairs.

“I think it’s a criminal act to put kids permanently out of school,” Judie said. “Do you know what permanent expulsion means? You can’t go to school in the United States ever again! Why would somebody do something like that?”

While acknowledging that another school district could choose to accept such students, he said he didn’t believe any of them would.

Starting this year, the school system is even re-enrolling some students who were permanently expelled in years past.

“That gateway has just opened,” he said. “They are being reviewed and screened.”

Nova Bruss, a Westside teacher who retired this summer, and others said some “permanently expelled” students were already back in school last year. As an example, Bruss said she had a student in her classroom who had been permanently expelled after being jailed for assault with a deadly weapon.

But Judie said the district just began the practice, and the decision will be made on a case-by-case basis by district staff, not the school board.

The school system reported to the state that 255 students had been permanently expelled during 2010-11, the last school year that permanent expulsion was used. That is dramatically more than any other school district in the state.

Only Cherokee County schools came close, reporting 164 permanent expulsions. Atlanta public schools and Gwinnett County schools together reported just 63. Most systems reported only a handful.

Judie, who didn’t come to the district until the following year, said he consulted other employees who said 255 was an accurate number, reflecting the “three strikes and you’re out” policy the district had been using, as well as expulsions used to “get kids off the books” who had never shown up to serve expulsions at an alternative program.

The “three strikes” policy, as described in the 2010-11 conduct code, required that any middle or high school student found guilty of violating the conduct code after three evidentiary hearings over two consecutive school years would be expelled for a year, with no option to attend an alternative program. Afterward, the student could return to the home school. But if found guilty of new offenses at a later disciplinary hearing, the student would be permanently expelled.

Rob Sumowski, who was the district’s hearing officer at the time, said he remembers only about 30 permanent expulsions in 2010-11. He said the “three strikes” policy was invoked about nine times that year.

An internal school system spreadsheet showed just 36 permanent expulsions that year. The school district even made its own graphs analyzing a breakdown of which schools those cases came from.

The documents show those permanent expulsions included five involving weapons, 15 involving violent incidents, eight involving a verbal or physical attack on a teacher, 11 involving bullying, and two involving drugs.

All the students permanently expelled had multiple types of conduct code violations. Among the incidents that led to permanent expulsions were verbal threats to kill an administrator and a campus police officer, “sexual obscenity toward an administrator,” and cutting another student in class.

Eight of the students had been through at least three evidentiary hearings, and one student had been through eight.

Judie noted that permanent expulsion often happened as the culmination of a series of rule violations.

“Kids were being expelled permanently for non-weapon violations,” he said. “And I say that’s not right.”

However, Sumowski said, “Permanent expulsion was used strictly as a last resort and only after we had exhausted every other option available to keep the student in school.”

Off-campus arrests

The school district’s former conduct code stated that students who were arrested, indicted or convicted of crimes off campus were either automatically moved to an alternative education program or recommended for long-term suspension or expulsion after a hearing.

Teachers and administrators say that wasn’t happening last year.

A former Westside teacher, who asked not to be named, recalled having students who had been arrested on or off campus returning to her classroom immediately after being released from jail. One student, she said, returned to her class right after serving 30 days in juvenile detention for assaulting a police officer while carrying marijuana.

Judie said the district has no policy about how to handle students who have been arrested off campus, although it is working on one. He said the district “cannot play police department.”

He noted, however: “We’re not advocating people who have committed violent crimes off campus to come in and sit next to our children,” even in an alternative school. “But I don’t want to be seen as violating the judicial process.”

The district is also developing a policy, he said, that might require students to re-enter the school district through alternative school if they are returning from jail, juvenile detention or an expulsion they chose to serve at home.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.