so disproportionate to the offense in light of all circumstances as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness
The King of zero tolerance school boards in Delaware lost a huge appeal with the Delaware Superior Court. After expelling a student in 2017, the student appealed the decision and the State Board of Education ruled in the student’s favor. Not one to take anything laying down, the Smyrna Board of Education filed an appeal against the State Board. They lost and they lost big time!
**Updated**, 1/19/19, 8:05am: Please see below for new information about this article.
Thus, a review of the record reveals a failure on the part of the Smyrna School Board to employ a rational decision-making process that considers all the available facts and circumstances of the case and to ascribe a proportionate and fair punishment for E.D.’s actions.
The Smyrna school district and their board have consistently implemented zero tolerance policies where the punishment does not fit the crime. They like to harshly punish students and have the highest expulsion rate in the state. I wrote about one of those situations the summer of 2017. If that didn’t teach their board that they are acting like overzealous idiots, maybe this decision will. But I doubt it. The district is currently continuing their ridiculous practices of zero tolerance. They bully parents and fail to provide education for students who don’t fit the district and board’s mold. It seems like almost every month the State Board of Education has to waste time on yet another appeal from a Smyrna student. They are currently railroading another student with heavy-handed tactics that defy explanation.
Moreover, the DE Board of Ed was correct that the Smyrna School Board acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner and failed to comply with the due process requirements set forth by federal and state law.
What really ticks me off about the below decision is the fact this was a special education student. He got into a fight and when staff couldn’t break it up, he was tased by the School Resource Officer. The school was put on lockdown (after he was tased) until law enforcement could arrive. Even though the IEP team found the student’s behavior was not a manifestation of his disability, tasing a student is a very serious move in and of itself. To do it with a student with disabilities means there was no other available means of de-escalating the situation. There are very specific Delaware laws in regards to seclusion and restraint. The case was dropped by Family Court (and rightfully so) but the Smyrna board decided to expel him for 180 days. I have to wonder if the SRO did everything in their power, under the laws of Seclusion and Restraint, before tasing a student.
We live in a time when school districts and charter schools are supposed to be getting away from harsh discipline tactics. Many are employing those strategies and are seeing fruitful results. But Smyrna’s expel first tactics are clear violations of due process rights and show a district that doesn’t want to employ new ways of thinking. What they fail to consider in their dictator rulings is the impact this has on the individual student and their family. While the State Board of Education and the Superior Court ruling was just and fair, how much time did this student lose? How much education was taken away from him? That is the true injustice here. The student recognized his mistake. Even the mother agreed he should have been punished. But to give a punishment that does not fit the crime is a horrible thing to do in our public education system. It is very clear the district needs some serious training on not only their own board policies but also state law.
Consider this a shot across the bow for all Delaware school districts and charter schools. The state isn’t going to put up with districts violating due process laws when it comes to education. I’m not against school discipline but be fair about it and make sure you give students the same rights you would want yourself if you had to defend yourself. Smyrna is not the only district that does this but they are, by far, the one that does it the most.
What the Smyrna School District and their Board of Education does with these tactics is heartless and cruel. I salute the foster parent for fighting for her child. It takes guts and bravery to go up against a school district and a school board. It is not something everyone can do. But she did it and helped her child. But it also takes a very emotional toll. You are fighting for your child but also feel helpless many times. You want to take their pain away and cry but you also need to be in a fighting mode. It is not easy.
The problem with cases like this is there are no punitive measures taken against the school district or the board of education. Because they are an agency of the state (the district) and publicly elected officials (the board), there is nothing in state code that would impose fines or sanctions against the district or board. So Smyrna continues to play this game with the educational outcomes of students at stake. It isn’t right.
**Updated**1/19/19, 8:05am: Many sources are telling me this incident happened in a cafeteria, not a classroom. The location is key and explains why the school was put on lockdown. There is also the matter of the student throwing chairs in the cafeteria which is clearly an indication of a real and viable threat to other students so I do understand why the student was tased. With that being said, given that the student had no other offenses, I feel he should not have been expelled.
I have been getting lambasted on the Smyrna-Clayton Residents Facebook page over the past 12 hours or so. To be clear, I am NOT against school discipline. But I am against not following state law and the district’s own policies in implementing that school discipline. By not doing so, it undermines them. I support local school boards and recognize they face tough decisions all the time. When I call them out it is in the attempt to help them recognize that they still need to do the right thing. They are elected officials.