School panels increase
More students were disciplined last year

SUWANEE - The number of Gwinnett County students appearing before disciplinary panels increased last year, an administrator told the Gwinnett County Board of Education last week.

In 2008-09, there were 2,130 disciplinary panels, a moderate increase from the 1,910 the year before, said Jim Taylor, executive director for academic support. The estimated number of panels per 1,000 students increased from 12.3 to 13.5.

The number of students paneled represented 1.4 percent of the district's total enrollment, Taylor said. It's noteworthy, he said, that 98.6 percent of students in Gwinnett County Public Schools did not appear before a disciplinary panel.

"Any large, urban school district would welcome this as a cause for celebration," Taylor said.

The increase in the number of panels is due to an increase in damage to private property and drugs, alcohol and tobacco rule violations, Taylor said. The number of Rule 3 violations - damage to private property - increased from 19 to 112. Drugs, alcohol and tobacco violations - Rule 7 - jumped from 272 to 382.

Black students continue to violate major rules at a percentage rate that is higher than other groups, something that is consistent with the national trend for public schools, Taylor said. Although the number of black students sent to panels increased from 931 to 1,013, the ethnic group comprised 47.6 percent of the total number of disciplinary panels - 1.1 percentage points less than the year before.

Taylor also noted that 97.7 percent of black students did not appear before a disciplinary panel.

The school district's disciplinary rules are "not color-coded or culture-coded," Taylor said. "We want to be firm but fair and consistent."

Students who have been accused of committing major rule violations, including disruption of school, damage of school property, fighting, possession of weapons, indecency or disregard of commands, can be sent before a disciplinary panel made up of district employees. If a student is found guilty, disciplinary action can include suspension, referral to alternative schools or expulsion.

GCPS remains committed to keeping students in school and engaged in meaningful instruction, Taylor said. Only 10 of the students who appeared before a hearing officer or tribunal were recommended to the school board to receive permanent expulsion, compared to 33 the previous year. The other 99.5 percent of students were given the opportunity to continue their education at one of the two Gwinnett InterVention Education Centers, through Project Rescue or in the school system's Adult Education Program.