Summerland high school tops for student suspensions

But across the board, major suspensions are down at schools in Penticton and elsewhere in Okanagan Skaha School District

SD 67 Major Suspensions for 2012-13 by Joe Fries

Fewer students are being sent home from class.

A total of 31 major suspensions lasting three or more days were handed out during the 2012-13 session, down from 42 in each of the two previous years, according to new data from the Okanagan Skaha School District.

Just over half of last year’s suspensions were drug-related, and just under half were imposed on students from Summerland Secondary School.

The Western News obtained the statistics through a freedom of information request.

It’s unclear what’s behind the overall decrease, although the district administrator responsible for discipline thinks it could be the result of principals building better relationships with students.

“The better you know kids, the less of those kinds of (suspendable) mistakes they make,” said director of instruction Don MacIntyre.

“We do a lot of proactive work in schools to try to make kids understand, ‘Listen, we’re not trying to control your life, but we are trying to make sure we keep the environment of school as pure as possible because you’re here to learn something.’”

Thirteen of the suspensions were handed to students at Summerland Secondary School, seven were issued at Princess Margaret Secondary, and six originated at Penticton Secondary School. Also on the list were ConnectED, McNicoll Park Middle and Summerland Middle schools.

Sixteen of the suspensions related to drugs, five involved weapons, and four had to do with property offences. The rest involved fighting, weapons, poor behaviour, starting a fire or pulling a fire alarm.

MacIntyre said marijuana is involved in the “vast majority” of drug-related incidents.

“Most often it’s use — individual use — and it varies from kids who smoked it before they came to school or they’ve gone (and smoked) on a break or lunch time, something like that,” he explained.

“Very rarely is it ever distribution or a dealing situation.”

MacIntyre is notified whenever a school issues a three-day suspension, and he then reports it to the school board at an in camera meeting.

If it’s a second offence, the student may be referred to a district discipline committee with the power to issue an even longer suspension.

MacIntyre has also tried to intervene more frequently just before the initial three-day suspension is handed down by a school principal. He’ll try instead to set up a meeting with the student and a parent to explain the gravity of the situation.

“I probably had 30 of those meetings last year… and what I’ve noticed is we’ve had to call fewer district discipline committee meetings as a result,” he said.

Derek Hurst, who heads the district parent advisory committee, said he has yet to hear a complaint from a parent about the way the local schools handle discipline.

“It would have to be, I would suggest, a big thing if it got to DPAC (because) I think there are many avenues of help prior,” Hurst said.

“I guess if it was happening due to some social happening within the school population, then maybe.”

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