Anchorage explusion rate climbs

Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- More Anchorage students were expelled and suspended during the 2001-02 school year than in the year before, but that doesn't necessarily mean kids were misbehaving in greater numbers. They were just caught more often.

That's a credit to vigilant staff members throughout the city's School District and possibly a product of added security and administrative staffers at many schools, Superintendent Carol Comeau said.

Schools are being more active in the area of discipline, especially in punishing students for assault, harassment, and drug and alcohol use, she said.

District officials are quick to point out that the year's total enrollment also was a record high. Last year, 49,676 students attended Anchorage schools, 156 more than in the previous year. But the increase in population isn't proportional to the increase in suspensions and expulsions.

At the middle school level, for example, 40 students were expelled last year -- a leap from the 21 expelled the previous year. Suspensions at those grade levels also increased, to 2,895 last year compared with 2,530 the year before.

Comeau discussed these numbers, detailed in a quarterly report on suspensions and expulsions, at a School Board meeting Monday.

About 73 percent of 136 expulsions were handed to students using drugs or alcohol during school hours or at school-sponsored activities such as dances or sports events.

According to district policy, students selling drugs are expelled. Anyone caught using or possessing them is suspended on the first offense. A second violation brings expulsion, whether the two offenses happen in the same week, or anytime between the seventh and 12th grades.

School Board members last year mulled options to expelling students for drug and alcohol violations. But alternatives-- including counseling or setting up a special school for those students -- costs money that isn't available, Comeau said. The district has applied for about $400,000 in federal grants to deal with that issue.

''We continue to withdraw services from folks on their second drug and alcohol, and we don't have an alternative,'' board member Tim Steele said. ''If they have parents that find ways to continue their education, the kids benefit. If they do not, they stay home, they drop out, and we lose a lot of kids that way.''

Seventy-eight of the 95 expelled high school students were booted for drug and alcohol violations. Some high schoolers were caught with heroin and cocaine. But marijuana and alcohol were most common, Comeau said.

Half of the 40 middle school expulsions were given last year for violating the drug and alcohol policy, compared with just five expulsions for those reasons in the previous school year.

The report tied the bulk of that increase to the rampant distribution of the drug ecstasy during a short period of the 2001-02 school year. The School District and the Anchorage Police Department handled the situation quickly, and the expulsion rate dropped to the usual level.

''Apparently, it was very cheap and very available in different parts of town,'' Comeau said. ''There were kids passing it around at school.''

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