Editor’s Note: This story is part of an occasional series about discipline in Maine schools.

A study group has recommended new student expulsion procedures for all public high schools in Maine, following a four-month review of discipline regulations statewide and their impact on dropout rates.

The panel also wants to change the compulsory ages for school attendance, eliminate “zero tolerance” discipline policies and amend truancy laws to encourage students to stay in school.

“We came up with some thoughtful and transparent procedures that should be followed before, during and after the expulsion process,” said state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, a panel member. “These are common-sense solutions to problems we’ve been hearing about, and ways that we can make sure every student in Maine has the opportunity to earn a diploma.”

The panel is an outgrowth of 2010 legislation, sponsored by Alfond, that set a goal to increase Maine’s high school graduation rate from 80 percent to 90 percent by 2016.

The 23-member panel, which includes educational, legal and social service experts, presented an executive summary of its findings and recommendations last week to the Legislature’s Education Committee, which Alfond co-chaired the past two years. The panel is expected to meet once more, on Nov. 29, to finish and deliver its full report.

It’s unclear what will happen to the report’s recommendations, especially with the administrative overhaul that’s expected when Republican Gov.-elect Paul LePage takes office in January and the Legislature convenes with new Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

Alfond said he hopes to be reappointed to the Education Committee and plans to submit a bill or bills in January reflecting many of the recommendations in the report.

Under Maine law, students who misbehave in various ways may be expelled indefinitely, without having a way to continue their education elsewhere or knowing what they must do to get back in the classroom.

Some school districts offer re-entry plans and provide in-school tutoring, but others offer little guidance on how students can prove they’re worthy of readmission.

The panel has recommended that all school districts be required to give each expelled student a written re-entry plan and designate a school employee to monitor their progress toward readmission. Re-entry plans typically call for counseling, some form of restitution and a pledge not to repeat the offending behavior.

The panel also recommended that state regulations more clearly outline a student’s right to due process before, during and after an expulsion hearing, including the right to appeal a school board’s decision to Superior Court within 30 days.

Panel members agreed that expelled students should have access to alternative educational services, but they couldn’t reach consensus on whether school districts or the Maine Department of Education should be responsible for added costs.

Among its other recommendations, the panel suggested reducing the compulsory age to start school from 7 years old to 6. The panel also called for several changes in Maine’s truancy laws to promote earlier and more consistent intervention.

It suggested dropping the term “zero tolerance” from discipline policies because there’s no evidence that it encourages positive behavior. And it encouraged school districts to use suspensions and expulsions only as a last resort, and to adopt restorative interventions that link students more closely to the effects and consequences of their behaviors.

The panel also suggested that Maine calculate additional graduation rates that include students who graduate from high school within five or six years or receive diplomas through alternative programs.

Under new federal measures, Maine’s official graduation rate reflects only students who graduate within four years of starting high school. 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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