District can create exceptions to 1-year expulsion for weapons in school

The standard penalty for having a weapon in school is a one-year expulsion.

There are exceptions, but even having to go through the hearing to see if those exceptions should be applied can be traumatic for students, Warren County School District Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

According to the Safe Schools Act, students in Pennsylvania schools must be expelled for a minimum of one year if they are found with a weapon on school property, a school activity, or on school transportation.

Any of the following qualify as weapons: knife, cutting instrument, cutting tool, nunchaku, firearm, rifle, or any other tool, instrument, or implement capable of inflicting serious bodily injury.”

It is not a “zero-tolerance” policy. Schools must allow for consideration of special circumstances.

There are caveats in the state law and the district’s policy that allow the superintendent to recommend modifications to the expulsion requirement “on a case-by-case basis.”

“The district’s practice has been to hold a formal expulsion hearing for all Act 26 violations, and if the superintendent was recommending a lesser discipline than the one-year expulsion, the recommended discipline would be presented at the hearing, included in the hearing officer’s report, and submitted to the board for approval,” Solicitor Chris Byham said.

The new policy allows the superintendent to step in and recommend a “stipulation of discipline” prior to the case moving to the hearing officer. Any final decision, before or after a hearing, whether of expulsion or some other result, would have to be approved by the board.

The change can keep students from going through potentially “traumatic” hearings, in cases where the weapon possession is “truly unintentional,” Stewart said.

“The administration’s intent in pursuing this alternative for those unintentional/inadvertent weapons infractions that qualify is to: ensure compliance with Act 26, but save the district the time and cost associated with a formal/expulsion hearing; save the student and parents from the stress and trauma of having to go through the formal/expulsion hearing process; and create a consistent mechanism to be used throughout the district for these types of cases,” Byham said.

“If an expulsion is being recommended because the violation is not unintentional/inadvertent, or otherwise, the traditional formal/expulsion hearing procedure would still be adhered to,” Byham said.

“This policy will make sure it’s handled consistently,” Stewart said.

The proposed change was approved on first and second reading at Monday’s meeting of the school board and takes effect immediately.