Few handed expulsions for assaults on teachers

The Richmond County students accused of sending their principal to the hospital after she tried to break up a fight will probably learn of their punishment this month, but they likely won't be expelled.

It will be up to a disciplinary tribunal to determine the severity and intentions of the Cross Creek High School students' actions.

Despite a policy that permanently expels students guilty of the most egregious assaults on staff members, The Augusta Chronicle found that tribunals almost always choose to dole out a lesser punishment, which the policy permits as an exception to the rule.

Since fall 2003, 118 students have been found guilty of a Rule 4(B) violation, the most severe assault of a staff member, defined in the Code of Conduct as "physical violence against teachers, school bus driver, or other school official or employee."

But of the 118, only six have been permanently expelled as policy states. The numbers are based on The Chronicle's compilation and analysis of 3,771 student discipline reports dating back to August 2003.

"A student found by the tribunal to have committed an act of physical violence as defined herein against a teacher, school bus driver, school official, or school employee shall be expelled from the public school system," states the Code of Conduct, which has the force of policy. "The expulsion shall be for the remainder of the student's eligibility to attend public school."

The code goes on to state that at the board's discretion, a guilty student can be sent to the alternative school for the duration and the board, at the recommendation of the tribunal, can allow a child in elementary or middle school to re-enroll in a regular school setting for high school.

Tribunals have issued these much more lenient punishments, which range from giving students time served to expelling them until the end of the school year.

"If that's the case, then somebody's not following the rules," school board member Jack Padgett said. "Any 4(B) I've gotten, as far as I'm concerned, they are out of there."

He said he supports permanent expulsion for any student found guilty under this rule.

"They need to be somewhere, but not in the school system. If we've got a 4(B), and they haven't been expelled, I want to know why," he said.

Sharon Smith, a retired math teacher, said in an e-mail that punishments for students who assault educators are too lenient. "I agree totally that the punishments are too light," she said.

Recalling her days at Cross Creek High School 61/2 ago, Ms. Smith said one assistant principal suffered "pretty bad bruises" at the hands of a student and another suffered a concussion when the cafeteria was robbed.

"Every time the male teachers and principals tried to break up a fight, their bodies took stray blows," she said. "I loved most of my students ... but after two years I decided it wasn't worth the verbal and potential physical abuse from some of the parents and students.

"Most of the kids are great, but the few are affecting the whole learning process."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

MAJOR ASSAULTS

Richmond County policy permanently expels students found guilty of the most severe assaults on school staff members, though it does allow for less strict punishments as an exception. The Augusta Chronicle found that it's rare for a student to be permanently expelled.

SCHOOL YEARGUILTYEXPELLED
2003-04331
2004-05300
2005-06244
2006-07201
2007-08*110

* Year to date

Source: The Augusta Chronicle analysis of Richmond County Board of Education records