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Expulsion rate drops at schools in Cabell

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Cabell County has registered a 50 percent decrease in the number of students being expelled from its public schools since 2009. The school system is on pace to have even fewer this year.

Three years ago, 151 students were expelled, meaning they were provided a homebound tutor or placed at the Alternative School located within the central office complex in Huntington. That figure dropped to 129 the following year and 106 last year.

As of Jan. 25, there have been 44 expelled this school year. Forty were expelled during the first semester, meaning the school system is on pace to have fewer than 100.

That's out of 3,517 students enrolled at the two high schools and 2,819 at the five middle schools, according to data submitted to the West Virginia Department of Education in October. About 6,600 attend the county's elementary schools.

Todd Alexander, the administrative assistant for Secondary Schools, said the decrease is attributed to several student-focused changes middle and high schools in the past three years.

In middle schools, the structure was changed to a team approach so that a core group of teachers in each subject share the same group of students. They also are allotted time to meet together so they can discuss lesson plans and student issues they see in their classes.

At the high schools, Alexander said the freshmen academies, which operate under a similar team-teaching approach, are starting off students the right way. He said students receive a more focused high school transition plan, map out a path to graduation and start looking at careers.

"We're giving kids hope by keeping them engaged," he said.

Further evidence can be found with the freshman attendance rates, which have steadily climbed since 2008, from 88.32 percent to 90.3 percent.

The changes at the secondary level, he said, also are showing up in the large decrease in the number of discipline referrals since 2008. In the past five years, overall numbers have dropped from 22,310 to 15,910. The biggest decline came from the freshman classes, which went from nearly 5,000 in 2008 to 663 during the 2011-2012 school year.

Middle school discipline referrals also saw an overall decline during the five-year period, but there was an uptick of about 1,800 last year. Alexander attributed part of that increase to one middle school that started turning in tardies. Overall, Alexander said officials are satisfied with the numbers.

"Teaming at the middle school level had a real positive effect on the numbers," he said. "There was a time when you looked at middle schools and you had 20 referrals a day. Now, it's in the single digits."

Though there is plenty of good news, Alexander said officials have seen a rise in harassment, bullying and intimidation, mostly related to technology abuse.

"It's the hottest button issue we are dealing with right now," he said. "Increased social media usage ... we're seeing an explosion through those means. And that spills over into school."

Those social media issues are sometimes tough to deal with because much of the online bullying happens after school hours. However, Alexander said if it is brought to their attention and it is affecting the student's education, then the school system can get involved.

To this point, very few students have been expelled for harassment. Most expulsions, Alexander said, are for possession of an illegal substance or habitual violations of school rules.