Drugs cited in two-thirds of local school suspensions

FOI request reveals 42 students in Okanagan Skaha School District received major suspensions last year, most of them drug-related

Almost two-thirds of students issued major suspensions last year were cited for drug-related activities, according to Okanagan Skaha School District records.

A total of 42 students received four- or five-day suspensions during the 2011-12 session, and drugs were involved in 27 of those cases, basic details of which were obtained by the Western News under freedom of information legislation.

The bulk of those suspensions came as a result of high school students being caught under the influence of marijuana, said Don MacIntyre, the district’s director of instruction.

There were “very few incidents of students selling” drugs, he continued, “although it does happen.”

Besides drugs, six students were suspended for behaviour problems, and two each for alcohol, fighting and weapons.

It was a slightly different picture in the 2010-11 year, when an identical 42 major suspensions were issued, but included 17 for drugs, 11 for fighting and four for alcohol.

The duration of a suspension is influenced mainly by the nature of the allegation, and the disciplinary and academic records of the student involved, MacIntyre explained. Schools are not required to report suspensions of three days or less, but must refer four- or five-day bans to the district office, where administrators can also arrange a sitting of an ad hoc discipline committee to confirm the decision.

“We only had three meetings this year; there might have been four last year,” MacIntyre said. “But I can remember (years) when we had a meeting every month.”

Superintendent Wendy Hyer said the district does not issue expulsions, although it is permitted by law to boot kids 16 or older. Some suspensions can, however, be open-ended and finish only when a student has met goals such as attendance or work completion.

The most problematic students, who may pose a risk to others, are generally pulled out of regular school and enrolled in a distance-learning program.

“Our intention is always to give a student as many ways as possible to stay connected to the school system,” Hyer said.

“What we know is, kids in this age range generally do grow up at some point, and so we try to find a way to keep them remotely connected in any way we can.”

Despite administrators’ best efforts, though, suspensions are mostly ineffective without parental back-up, said Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union president Leslea Pryde.

“Unless you have parent support at home and programs in place to help correct the behaviour, it’s liable to happen again,” said Pryde, who became president this month after Kevin Epp chose not to stand for re-election.

Hyer said the district tries to involve willing parents in the disciplinary process where possible, and also give students an idea of what further missteps will bring.

“We’re trying to be proactive saying, ‘If you keep demonstrating this kind of behaviour, there’s a line in the sand,’” Hyer said.