Friday, June 24, 2005

Zero-tolerance gets another look

June 24, 2005, 6:39AM

Granted options, some districts may move to relax their discipline policies
Chronicle Correspondent

Some Texas schools are taking steps to relax their stances on zero-tolerance discipline to comply with a new law that allows for a range of options in punishing students who mistakenly bring prohibited weapons to school.

Terry Abbott, Houston Independent School District spokesman, said school officials would ask the school board at the next meeting to amend the Code of Student Conduct to reflect the recent change in state law.

Katy ISD, the subject of several high-profile disciplinary cases, has decided to integrate the statute into its discipline code for board adoption in 2005-06.

In the Katy district, Christina Lough, an eighth-grader at Garland McMeans Junior High, was suspended for seven days for bringing to school a Korean pencil sharpener with a 2-inch folding blade.

In another case, Gabrielle Hoggett, also an eighth-grader at Garland McMeans Junior High, was suspended and sent to an alternative education school for bringing a butter knife to school.

Under House Bill 603, co-authored by Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, school boards are required to stipulate in its code of conduct whether consideration is given to the student's intent or lack of intent, disciplinary history or disabilities that might affect the student's capacity to understand the offense before deciding to remove, suspend or expel a student.

Currently, students most often face strict uniform punishment, such as expulsion and placement in alternative education programs, for bringing any illegal items to school.

"I am relieved House Bill 603 passed because it could possibly prevent other people from having their lives turned upside down like ours was," said Eddie Evans, whose son was arrested, expelled and sent to a juvenile detention center for inadvertently bringing a pocketknife to school in the Conroe Independent School District.

Evans said his son was traumatized by the 45 days he spent in a boot camp.

Eissler received a letter from Evans, also a Woodlands resident, telling him of the ordeal.

"After hearing his story, I knew I had to do something about it," Eissler said.

In December 2002, Evans said his son, then 12, went to school wearing a jacket while unaware a three-inch pocketknife had been left in a pocket.

When the boy discovered the knife later that morning, he told a friend about the knife, who in turn informed school officials.

Because student discipline records are confidential, Conroe ISD officials said they could not comment on specific students without parental consent.

"The greatest benefit of the law is that, if implemented by a school district, it will allow administrators to do what they are supposed to do best and that is weigh the best interest of the child as it relates to specific circumstances," said Fred Hink, president of Katy Zero Tolerance, a group dedicated to protecting parental rights in the discipline process.

Carrie Galatas, legal counsel for Conroe ISD, said the district is reviewing all of the changes from this legislative session and has not made any final recommendations regarding the new law for the coming school year.

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