FAIRMONT – The Marion County Board of Education approved the expulsion of three students at Monday evening’s meeting.
The motion was met as usual with regret by the board members, who said the act is one of the most unpleasant parts of their duties.
“It’s no secret that this pains me,” said Donna Costello, a Board of Education member. “My concern is that we’re just putting them back into an environment that they came from, and what purpose does that serve?”
The expulsion recommendations Monday were made because the students violated the Safe Schools Act, so the expulsions are necessary to maintain the safety of students and faculty members at their respective schools. Often, these cases involve police paperwork, or at least that of administrators of a certain school, who notify the superintendent if a student should be expelled.
“By the time the administrators investigate what happened... it is investigated here by the police,” said Board member Tom Dragich. “I would rather feel bad about it and not have to face a faculty senate where people want to know why we’re not protecting them. We need to take that into consideration.”
So far this year, the board has expelled 12 students from county schools, covering a range of ages as well as schools. Rockie DeLorenzo, administrative assistant for human resources, said middle school students make up the most common demographic of expelled students.
Board president Mary Jo Thomas was absent at Monday’s meeting, but previously expressed similar dissatisfaction with having to move to expel a student from school. Other board members share the same view as Costello, wondering if there is another option for students who may be troubled.
“I really hate to see us have to do that,” said Blair Montgomery, a Board of Education member.
Following an expulsion, a student can go to Barnes Learning Center to go through counseling and classes, to potentially be reinstated at their school of origin after some time.
“I’ve seen a lot of cases over the years where they have really helped kids turn their lives around,” Dragich said.
“They have an opportunity to rehabilitate and that’s what they work towards.”
Still, Costello said the motion is one that she would like to look more closely at, unsure of what kind of solution exists for avoiding this problem in the future.
“Every time I see an expulsion, it pains me,” Costello said. “Even though they take advantage of the program that’s offered, are they still going back into the environment.”
Also at the meeting, Brooke Stark, a teacher at Fairmont Senior High School, petitioned to the board to consider moving the date of the county high schools’ commencement ceremonies.
Her son is a runner on Fairmont Senior’s track team and would miss his graduation from the school due to his participation in the state finals scheduled to take place the same day.
“He was devastated when he learned that the county had scheduled graduation for the same time that he would be competing in the state track meet,” Stark said. “He learned that now he has to choose between a possible third state title and being able to speak at his graduation.”
Stark acknowledged that there are always events that conflict with the graduation date but proposed that it may be time for Boards of Education to consider these events when choosing a date for commencement. Deciding between two options is difficult for graduates, so Stark said she hoped the board would make an arrangement.
“Track is not a popular sport, these athletes are not expecting special recognition,” Stark said. “Each of these students has been given the choice of attending the biggest event of their high school careers and graduating with their classmates or honoring the commitment they made to their teammates and competing at the state’s highest level.
“I don’t feel like this is really a choice that they should have to make.”
Dragich also acknowledged that there are always conflicts with graduation, and said it may be time to look at scheduling. However, from his time as a school principal, Dragich knows the difficulties that arise when speaking with the Southern States Athletic Conference.
“It’s been an ongoing problem because the WVSSAC is not flexible in any way, shape or form,” Dragich said. “They don’t take into consideration the needs of students, and it’s almost like they’re locked into what’s available in Charleston.”
Costello also spoke up and added that having all county graduations on the same night has already brought conflicts. The board members all said they would look into scheduling with commencement, to try to better accommodate students involved in any extracurricular activities.
“There have been different conversations and requests from parents because we have all three graduations on the same night and they have to choose,” Costello said. “Maybe it’s time to think outside the box and try to accommodate.”