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School board to consider changes to discipline code

SUWANEE - The Gwinnett County Board of Education is considering changes to the school district's discipline code, recently reviewed by a task force because Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks was concerned a disproportionate number of minority students are taken before disciplinary panels each year.

Associate Superintendent Bobby Crowson told the board last week the 49-member task force reviewed the code to "eliminate as much as possible any soft prejudices" that may exist.

"We don't want there to be any judgment or any doubt that race is playing into

the disciplinary code," Crowson said. "What we really want is a consistent, fair (process)."

While black and Hispanic students made up 43.8 percent of Gwinnett County Public Schools' population during the 2005-06 school year, they represented 67.9 percent of the students taken to disciplinary panels for expulsion procedures, according to data from the school district. School officials noted this trend is seen by school districts throughout the country.

Gwinnett County sent 2,218 students in the 2005-06 school year to a tribunal.

The task force was made up of teachers, administrators, bus drivers, parents, students and community members.

The group is recommending the county further define and identify rule violations that warrant expulsion or long-term suspension procedures, provide comprehensive training for hearing officers conducting disciplinary panels, add a rule that outline procedures for incidents that happen on school buses and establish procedures for consistent implementation of the rules.

Guidelines for dealing with infractions that take place on the school bus have always existed, but creating a separate rule may help eliminate the impression those offenses are not taken as seriously as ones committed on school campuses, school officials said.

"Our position was to tighten up on the disciplinary process, not lighten up on it," Crowson said.

Board member Robert McClure said the discipline procedures aren't set up to make students fail, but students who disrupt classrooms make it impossible for others to be successful.

McClure said he hopes discussion about the discipline code will continue.

Board members unanimously voted on Thursday to table the code for further review. The amended code may be adopted during next month's meeting, and the new rules would be in effect for the next school year.