LAND O'LAKES — The expulsion paperwork for the 15-year-old Land O'Lakes High student gave the Pasco School Board members pause.
"After leaving school with permission … this student returned to campus after school hours with a gun in the waistband of his pants," stated the report that accompanied principal Ric Mellin's recommendation, which came to the board Tuesday. "He also was seen at a bus stop that same afternoon with the gun in his waistband. The student was arrested."
More disturbing to the board members was the administration's request to table the expulsion and place the boy at the Irvin Education Center instead.
"It concerns me that some of the kids do the things they do and can still be placed in an educational setting," Kathryn Starkey said.
She wasn't alone.
Chairman Allen Altman and vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley also said the district needs to make sure that troublemaking students have a place to go, but not at the expense of teachers and other students.
"My concern is for those students and staff that sometimes don't have a voice," Hurley said after Tuesday's meeting. "The teachers want to teach. These are students in there who want to learn. Sometimes their needs are overshadowed by students who don't."
District administrators have spent much of this school year looking into different ways to organize alternative education, focusing a great deal of the attention on early intervention and credit recovery strategies. But Altman has stressed that the district cannot ignore the disruptive students who also need a place to go.
"I, and some of the board members, have wanted to make sure we are appropriately placing students," Altman said. "This board has made it very clear we think discipline is a foundation for a good learning environment."
He expected that the administration's overall plan for alternative programs will make it happen.
Board members acknowledged that the brief written explanations they receive for each proposed expulsion cannot tell the full story.
In the case of the Land O'Lakes High boy, whose name was withheld to protect his privacy, the document did not mention that the boy's gun was never found. So no one could say whether the gun was loaded, or whether it was even real.
Board members agreed to place the teen at Irvin.
"If they have any questions with regard to a specific child, we are able to address that privately," student services director Lizette Alexander said, citing the need to protect children's personal records.
She planned to confer with the board members individually to find out what they wanted to see happen in this area, as she and others continue to work through the district's alternative education revamp.
Starkey looked forward to having a workshop on the issue, which she said gets highlighted in almost every board agenda.
"We see kids who come to us with 29 incidents," she said. "I just want to see some creative ideas with how we can deal with these kids separate from the kids who want to learn."
Hurley called the matter one of the most critical items facing the board.
"I'm willing to listen to what they are proposing," she said. "But I have to tell you, when I see some of those requests for expulsion, it gives me great pause to think how are these students impacting the safety, security and learning environment for other students."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.