Expelled But Walking
If a senior student in the Warren County School District is expelled for the entirety of the second semester, does that include graduation?
Each month, the school district’s board of directors hears recommendations from the district’s hearing officer, Eugene Casasanta, stemming from disciplinary hearings conducted throughout the district. The board, in most cases, agrees with his recommendation.
A case brought before the board on Monday night, however, sparked some discussion.
“(We have) had students in the past who can’t walk (for graduation) because of infractions,” said Board member Tom Knapp. “This one is permitted to do so.”
Casasanta said that the issue in the case was a minimal amount of marijuana and the student in question was upfront about the transgression from the beginning.
“That request (to walk at graduation) was no doubt made by the principal here,” he said.
While the specific details of the case are confidential, the board examined Casasanta’s recommendation to allow this particular student to participate in commencement exercises.
Knapp cited past precedent and said, “I don’t agree with the recommendation.”
“I appreciate what you’re saying,” said Casasanta. “At some point the board needs to look at the whole situation” regarding graduation in cases like this.
“You’re punishing the parents” by not permitting a student to participate, he added.
He reminded the board that this was his recommendation but that the final decision rested with them. He explained that his recommendation would have been different if the violation was more severe.
“I realize (what we have done) in the past,” he said. “We’re at the present now and try(ing) to make some changes in these decisions.”
“It makes a difference to me that the recommendation comes from the principal,” said Board President Arthur Stewart.
He offered a hypothetical situation of a student being in his or her last week of school and then causing serious disruption in school. “You’ve got to have some cushion left to keep order in the school,” he said, which would make a commencement ban feasible.
He acknowledged that the principal in this case took “other items into account.”
“When I do a hearing, I look at the whole thing, everything,” said Casasanta. “This is what I try to present to the board. My decision is only a recommendation.”
He concurred with Stewart’s example about the need to keep control.
“I disagree with this on principal with what we have done in the past,” said Knapp. He argued that changes in precedent should not be implemented before the board sets a change of policy in the area.
“At this point, we have a zero tolerance policy,” he said. “Marijuana is still illegal.”
“Your tolerance policy is not zero,” said Casasanta. “Your policy said that they could be. That’s my option to give to you. It’s up to you if you want to do that.”
The vote on the case, packaged with another case, passed 6-3 with Knapp, Donna Zariczny and Mary Anne Paris voted in the dissent.
At the close of the meeting, Zariczny called on administration to review the policy on this issue, generally, and come back with a recommendation.
“It’s not only policy, but it goes to our student handbooks,” she said.
The item will be brought back to the board at a future meeting.