District public school students caught carrying weapons, drugs or alcohol on school property may be barred from school for as long as one academic year, according to proposed disciplinary rules approved by the Board of Education last week.
The school board rejected Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie's recommendation that an expulsion policy be established.
"We are legally obligated to service persons up to the age of 18," board member David Eaton said, explaining the rejection. "Unless a student is convicted of a crime and taken to jail, we have to provide him with an education."
The proposed rules do not provide penalties for students charged with crimes committed away from school property. In such instances, McKenzie would be able to use her recently acquired authority to transfer students to other schools.
The proposed rules are expected to be published in the D.C. Register tomorrow and will become effective by the end of July unless significant objections are raised by the public.
Under the rules, students could be automatically suspended for at least 25 days and a maximum of an entire school year if they are accused of carrying weapons or committing other serious offenses on school grounds.
Minor offenses such as smoking, cheating, pulling a fire alarm or gambling on school property could draw suspensions of two to 10 days under the proposed rules. Currently, the maximum penalty for misdeeds is a 10-day suspension.
Alternative educational programs would be provided to students who are suspended for long periods of time, according to the proposed rules, which also state that students could appeal suspensions to hearing officers and the superintendent.
"We're going to develop special schools for students with serious disciplinary problems," said Eaton, who heads the school board's education programs committee. "My committee is responsible for drawing up plans to provide alternative schools for students who are habitually disruptive."
Those plans should be completed by the start of the next school year, Eaton said.
The proposed rules come after a series of controversial incidents involving students who were arrested for drug, sex and weapons charges that made school officials reexamine the present rules, which some described as lax. Under the present disciplinary code, students can commit serious offenses without being sufficiently punished for their actions, McKenzie and school board members complained.
Several high school students recently arrested for selling the drug phencyclidine, or PCP, to undercover police officers were allowed to return to classes after being suspended for about two days.
In one case, Michael Durso, principal at Wilson High School, refused to report to work for three days because a hearing officer allowed a student who had been charged with raping a classmate to return to the school after Durso had suspended him. The charges later were dropped and Durso returned to work, but the incident heightened school board members' concerns about the disciplinary code.
Last month, after the undercover drug arrests and Durso's protest, the school board called an emergency meeting and voted to give McKenzie the authority to transfer students accused of crimes without first holding a disciplinary hearing.
Because the new rules do not revoke the superintendent's transfer authority, McKenzie could continue to transfer students charged with crimes committed away from school property, said Betty Benjamin, who heads the rules, personnel policy and legislation committee that drafted the rules.
The proposed rules would make the city schools' disciplinary code more like those of other school systems in the metropolitan area. The strongest penalties exist in the Prince George's County school system, where students are expelled automatically for carrying weapons or selling drugs.