Manatee middle school student set to be expelled, brought BB gun to campus

A Manatee County middle school student who brought a BB gun to campus is set to be expelled by the Manatee County School Board on Tuesday.

It’s the first expulsion for the school board since February. The middle school student and his family waived a formal hearing before the school board about the proposed expulsion. The proposed final order was delivered to the student’s home on June 10. The board is expected to act on the proposed final order during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Final orders — which detail the incident leading to the expulsion, including the date and which school — used to be posted to the district’s website, with student information redacted. In January, the school district stopped posting the final orders altogether, meaning the general public had no information about why the school district was expelling a student.

After a Bradenton Herald article detailed the move, the district agreed in February to provide more information in the board agenda about the expulsion, but is still not including the proposed final order with student information redacted. The school district said the move to no longer include the final order is to protect student privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

It is unclear which school the student attended. The situation leading to the discovery of the BB gun possession is also unclear.

The agenda states the student broke the district’s Code of Conduct by bringing to school the BB gun, which is considered “weapon-like contraband,” and punishment can include suspension, alternative placement or expulsion.

Under state statute, certain weapons and firearms found on campus must result in mandatory alternative placement or expulsion. The BB gun does not fall under that category, staff attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum confirmed.

“It’s not defined under the state statute, it’s excluded,” he said.

The zero tolerance policy from the state, as per statute 1006.13, lays out what school districts must expel students for. Statute 790.001 defines weapons and firearms and does not include BB guns in the definition.

Uptick in expulsions

The middle school student set to be expelled Tuesday will be the seventh student expelled from the Manatee County School District since August, a rise in the number of expulsions for the school district. The student will be expelled with an alternative placement, meaning the student cannot attend a traditional school but can enroll in virtual school or may attend Horizons Academy.

Two Palmetto High School students were expelled in August for attacking the principal and assistant principal. At that time, the final orders were still being listed on the school district site.

A student at Manatee High School was expelled from the traditional school and alternatively placed for the rest of the academic year in November. The final order was included on the school board agenda then, too.

In January, the school board expelled two female students, one a junior and one a senior. The board approved the final order Jan. 12 during the consent agenda, without discussion. The students were expelled without services, the most serious type of expulsion. It is not clear what led to that disciplinary action. It is also not clear which school the students attended.

Another middle school boy was expelled by the school board in February. The sixth-grade boy was expelled with services, meaning the district will help make sure the student stays on track academically. It is not clear what led to that disciplinary action. It is also not clear which school the student attended.

The 2015-16 school year has been an anomaly for Manatee County, which had expelled just one student since 2009, according to Florida Department of Education Records, putting Manatee well below the average for districts across the state.

As a general rule, district officials said they like to consider all their other options before expelling a student. A committee looks at the incident before deciding whether to recommend expulsion.

Students recommended for expulsion are allowed a hearing before the school board. The parent or guardian may allow the hearings to be open to the public if they choose, but hearings are closed to the public otherwise. After the hearing, the school board settles on the final option, which then goes to a vote.

Florida statutes, and subsequently Manatee's student code of conduct, mandate students be expelled for certain actions such as bringing a firearm or a weapon to school, school function or onto school-sponsored transportation. Expulsion is required even if the weapon or firearm was brought for self-defense.

Other offenses, including drug possession or distribution, bullying, harassment, bomb threats, gang activity, felony arrest and sexting, may carry a recommendation for expulsion.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney