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editorial - herald - 1/23/02

January 24, 2002

Plan to expel dangerous kids may up adult prison numbers



How much legislation will it take to make West Virginia schools completely safe? We're not sure, but lawmakers in Charleston seem determined to do all they can toward that end. Whether all they've proposed is wise is another matter.

The state senate began the effort this week with legislation that would ban any student from carrying a knife. Knives had previously been allowed, if blades were no longer than three-and-half-inches. Under this bill, they'd be out completely.

The same bill would also give local jurisdictions approval to implement dress codes, for some or all of the schools in their area.

The decision as to whether such codes are needed would be made by advisory committees made up of parents, students and school officials. Those same committees would also have to determine how thingsw like uniforms would be paid for, raising the possibility that general taxpayers, as opposed to parents only, would foot the bill.

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It's the third feature of this bill that makes us uneasy. It seems like one of those proposals that was crafted because lawmakers were determined to do something, but weren't quite sure what.

Under this bill, schools could expel dangerous students and deny them alternative education classes if they were exceptionally dangerous to others. School would have to revisit that denial every three months.

The problem with this provision is that federal law limits the number of days that school systems can suspend students with emotional problems, unless there's some alternative program provided.

If the system decides that a student who hasn't been charged with a crime is a danger to other students, it's tough to see how that student can legally be denied help of some kind.

Whether that help is provided by the schools or the juvenile justice system is a question that ought to be explored. But the alternative proposed here would keep troubled youths out of the system, without help, until they grow into troubled adults.

Common sense - and a knowledge of it costs to incarcerate an adult for a year - require a better method of dealing with problem students. Tough talk about tossing out the troublemakers may sound good, but it won't solve the problem.

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