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Manchester school official points to 7 weapons cases not brought to conduct committee

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 23. 2014 11:17PM

MANCHESTER — The head of the school board’s conduct committee says the administration has been too willing to give a pass to students accused of serious wrongdoing, including bringing weapons to school.

“We need to provide an environment that is conducive to learning and is safe,” Ward 2 school board member Debra Gagnon Langton said.

Langton is chairman of the Student Conduct Committee, which holds hearings that determine whether a student is expelled from school. She first raised her concerns at a school board meeting last week.

She had intended to provide a quarterly update to the board on the committee’s work, but said she had sparse information to share since only two student referrals had been received since January. The committee, Langton said, was on track to hold its fewest hearings in her seven years on the panel, which typically holds about 20 hearings a school year.

“It’s amazing,” she added. “It’s not that I want a lot of conduct hearings, but if that’s what we need to ensure the safety of students.”

Langton said she’s learned that among the cases not referred to the committee were seven instances in which students brought weapons to school. Five involved knives, one a BB gun and another a Taser.

Under state law, possessing “a pellet or BB gun, rifle, or paint ball gun” on campus is grounds for expelling a student.

At the same time, state law gives superintendents the discretion to weigh circumstances in deciding whether to refer cases for expulsion. They also have the authority, without consulting a school board, to order suspensions of up to 10 days. Administrators are also not allowed to refer special education students for expulsion hearings.

Langton said she asked the district administration at the beginning of the month to provide an accounting of how it has handled misconduct cases and has yet to receive a response.

Asked to respond to the concerns raised by Langton, Assistant Superintendent David Ryan sent an email on behalf of Superintendent Debra Livingston.

“She does not have a reply for you at this time and will not be discussing student conduct issues,” Ryan wrote. “She and our board members will continue to work together on the issue.”

At last week’s school board meeting, Ward 10 member John Avard echoed Langton’s concerns.

“This body has repeatedly made the statement that any and all assaults and other criminal activity are to be reported to the police, as well as handled with expulsion. I’ve been hearing cases of assaults not being reported ... Parents are being told nothing can be done for a variety of reasons.”

Livingston said at the meeting that her “recommendation is to follow the policy which gives the superintendent the right to make hearing decisions.”

The board voted to refer the matter to the Coordination Committee on a motion from Ward 1 member Sarah Ambrogi, who said the district’s code of conduct was due for a review.

Langton, who is not on the committee, was upset by the vote.

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