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Downey Schools Credit Get-Tough Policy with Cutting Drug Expulsions

July 23, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — The number of students expelled from the Downey Unified School District dropped dramatically during the past school year as a result of anti-drug programs and tougher punishment for drug and alcohol abuse on campus, district officials said.

Sixty-six students were expelled last year for offenses ranging from sale and possession of drugs to assault, robbery and vandalism, according to a district report. The year before, 94 were expelled.

Supt. Edward A. Sussman credited a get-tough stand by the Board of Education for a decrease in drug and alcohol offenses and a parallel drop in expulsions. During the 1984-85 school year, the board began requiring expulsion hearings for first-time offenders. Before then, many first-offense cases of drug or alcohol possession were handled by individual schools. The punishment was suspension rather than expulsion from a school or the district.

"We needed to show the students that we meant business, that we would not tolerate drug abuse on our campuses," Sussman said.

Last school year, there were expulsion hearings for just three students accused of supplying marijuana to others; there were 24 such hearings in 1985-86. Expulsion hearings for possession of drugs decreased from 67 in 1985-86 to 22 last year. Hearings for possession of alcohol decreased from 18 to 6.

Last year, all drug- and alcohol-related hearings resulted in expulsion, said Stan Hanstad, the district's director of student and support services. In addition to the cases above, three students were expelled for furnishing drugs other than marijuana, one student was expelled for negotiating the sale of marijuana and one was expelled for furnishing alcohol.

Other Offenses Increase

In contrast to the number of drug and alcohol offenses, incidents of assault, robbery, vandalism and possession of dangerous objects increased from 19 in 1985-86 to 27 last year. All but one of the 27 cases resulted in expulsion. Sussman said that increase is not considered serious but that district officials will closely monitor those offenses next year.

In addition, two students were expelled for threatening to bomb a teacher's car, and two others were expelled for lighting a fire that caused minor damage to a restroom at Warren High School, Hanstad said. Fifty-eight of the students expelled last year were required to seek outside counseling as a condition to return to school.

In the first year that the new expulsion-hearing policy went into effect, the number for drug- and alcohol-related offenses skyrocketed from 69 the previous year to 112 in 1985-1986, Hanstad said. The number dropped to 36 last year.

Another reason for the decline is the antisubstance-abuse programs that reach students at the district's 17 elementary, middle and high schools, officials said.

Drug Abuse Programs

The district, which has 14,700 students, just completed its second year of Project Impact, a drug intervention program for middle and high school students. In addition, the district started its Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program last year in cooperation with the Downey Police Department. That program focuses on teaching fifth-grade pupils how to resist peer pressure to use drugs.

"Students are well aware at the fifth-grade level that you can say no to drugs," Hanstad said.

In the coming school year, the district will initiate SMART (Self Management and Resistance Training). SMART is similar to DARE but is for seventh-graders.

Richard Ruether, executive director of the Downey Education Assn., which represents more than 640 district teachers, questioned the value of kicking students out of school and causing them to miss instruction. The association has not taken a formal position on the toughened expulsion policy, he said.

"Why in the heck should you punish a kid by turning him loose and allowing him to go to the beach?" he said. "I'm definitely in favor of isolating them somehow from the regular student population, but I would like them to continue to work on their school work."

But Sally McFarland, president of the Downey Council PTA, said she approves of the district's tough treatment of first-time drug and alcohol offenders. She also complimented the district for using educational programs to steer students away from drugs and alcohol.

Student offenders have "had enough education for them to know what the rules and regulations are," she said. "If they can't follow the rules and regulations, then they have to take the consequences."

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