Expelling Kids From School

Too many young people it is said are being booted out of secondary school, and what’s more standards vary throughout New Zealand on what one can be expelled for. Foreign students some claim, get a better chance than New Zealand kids, to challenge tough expulsion decisions.

When put alongside the personal grievance and mediation services that government funds to protect employees being unjustifiably “expelled” from work – do students then, get a raw deal?

We are in the throes of electing onto School Boards parents who take on the heavy task of deciding if a badly behaved young person should be expelled. This decision rests with Board not the School Principal. So in a direct way the local school community views become the standard of acceptable school behaviour. Smoking outside school and out of uniform, may be an expellable offence for the mums and dads in Invercargill, but in Lower Hutt an offence that attracts a telling off. Busybody politicians to their credit haven’t had a go at laying down nationwide standards like in employment relations. Communities differ.

The School Principal has the first call in deciding whether a student should either be stood down, or suspended. With a stand-down the Principal can punish by banning a student from school for up to 5 days in any one term. The Principal must tell the parent or caregiver this is to happen and in most cases there is an interview with the Principal.

Suspensions however are a different matter. They require School Board involvement within 10 days of the suspension. Normally, the offending student is brought before the Board. The student is told of the charge they face, the evidence supporting the charge and given the opportunity to answer it. The Chairperson will outline to the parent and student the gravity of the situation and explain they have to consider one of four outcomes:

Whether to lift the suspension

Whether to continue the suspension

Whether to put additional conditions on the suspension. or

Whether to exclude or expel the student.

It is a tense time for all involved. The Principal will outline the schools position for example:

” John started a brawl yesterday at lunch break that injured another student, on trying to break up the fight he assaulted Ms Chipps . John was stood down last year over similar behaviour ….”

John, his parent, student or support person then puts their side of the story, maybe saying:

” John was provoked. He was going through a hard time at home as his mum had told his dad to leave or she would go to the police. Ms Chipps copping a black eye was accidental, for which he is really sorry ….”

The Board retires to make their decision. On their return they will usually tell the student and caregiver their decision directly. This, I have to say is an unenviable task for the chairperson – particularly if the decision is to expel. It’s a weighty duty the community puts on school trustees that requires humility and good judgement. Such a decision can so change the course of a young person’s life.

The Principal is then required to try in place that student in another school. If fellow Principals won’t accept the student concerned this triggers off Ministry of Education involvement and can direct a school to accept a student, but this is rare. All of us our entitled to free education from 5 to 19, and a young person cannot be banned from schooling until 16.

A fragmented network of dedicated teams will swing into action to pick up these “wayward” kids and try and set them on the right track. Often, sadly this is a battle because of family circumstances. Police incidentally confirm there are around 50 or so families and their dynasties who form the city’s criminal underbelly which accounts for around 80% of Hutt crime. Such family patterns are hard to change.

That aside, Hutt Valley has a good infrastructure to help with problem kids. On the surface it looks loose, but I understand there is informal coordination of our good locals involved and it is a model for elsewhere in New Zealand.

Correspondence schooling in a supportive environment such as a Marae or even schooling with a teacher aide if funding can be secured may be an option. More commonly however with older students, is a placement into the Hutt Valley Activity Centre or Lyric attached to Naenae College. Here, they are coached in basic skills reading, maths and how to talk people and hopefully a spark of interest is unearthed in a vocation. Some hopelessly unsuited to school thrive in the panel beating body shop or film cutting room for instance. This may lead to work placements, apprenticeships or possibly Polytechnic.

More “outside the square” programmes such as Te Rakau under the direction of the actor Jim Moriarty use drama and kapahaka traditions to change young people’s behaviour. In psychologically fraught cases the Mental Health Unit at Hutt Hospital may get into the act with such bold programmes as multi systemic therapy where a psychologist works strengthening a family – even to the point of being with them at breakfast.

We are well served by dedicated people picking up kids expelled from school. The acid test I guess is how all these efforts reflect in our social statistics. What say you?

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