The Manatee County School District wisely and quickly reversed a new policy on informing the public about student expulsions, but the new procedure falls a bit short. In January, the school board quit informing the public about student misbehavior that warranted expulsion. Previously, the so-called "final orders" outlining the infractions were attached to the board agenda for a vote in a public meeting.
This school year shows a disconcerting surge in expulsions, from one during the previous six school years to six students this year. These are very serious judgments that can take a terrible toll on the futures of young people.
Education is essential to career success, personal satisfaction and family stability. That's not a secret, but the scars from school expulsion don't exactly heal, unless the character of the student blossoms.
The student's right to privacy in cases of banishment is secure, thanks to a federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Youngsters should only be identified in public disciplinary reports.
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The Manatee County School District established a misguided policy in January that eliminated the public disclosure of any details surrounding an expulsion.
The fear of violating federal law motivated that action, but FERPA only applies to identifiable student records. Names and other revealing information can and should be redacted. The new policy will include the violation of the student code of conduct and the punishment.
Society does not need to malign youngsters. Unfortunately, social media can explode with details about an expulsion with student witnesses providing the information.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit that helps student journalists, has studied FERPA and its constraints. He told Herald education reporter Meghin Delaney this for a Feb. 21 article:
"The community absolutely has a right to know the grounds for which people are being expelled. Expulsion is a very serious decision, and we all know that there are documented inequities in the use of expulsion that disfavor students of color, so there is a compelling public interest in knowing how those penalties are being meted out.
"The public has a right to know whether expulsions have been overused or, conversely, whether students are committing serious offenses for which they receive insufficient punishment."
But parents and the public should be informed as much as legally possible. Now the district will release a public document that does not reveal the student's name or school but does outline the violation of the district's code of conduct and the resulting punishment, which could include reassignment to the district's alternative school, Horizons Academy, which serves students with academic and behavioral challenges.
A sixth-grader got expelled last week, but the district is not abandoning the child. Services to keep the student on track academically will be provided, as should be. The most severe discipline involves students expelled without services.
All students recommended for expulsion by a district committee have a right to a hearing before the school board, with parents or guardians deciding whether that meeting will be open to the public.
For parents of schoolchildren, transparency is essential -- especially since Florida is a school choice state. Withholding the name of the school does not identify the name of the student, but provides information about the school's social climate. Parents and the community have a right to know that.