Courageous Conversations: How Schools Discipline Dangerous Students

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.--The Greene County Juvenile Office gets nearly 2,000 referrals of kids who have behaved inappropriately. Of those referrals, 20-25% comes from schools, but most are never sent over to a juvenile judge. The reason is to prevent kids from getting involved with the system.

In Wednesday's Courageous Conversation, KOLR10 takes a look at how dangerous students are disciplined at school.

In a district of 25,000 students, Springfield Public Schools has zero tolerance for any threats to safety. On those occasions when their security is at risk-either by someone bringing a weapon to school or a student threatening to do harm, administrators go on the offense. They follow strict guidelines on how to handle discipline-even if a student is making a copycat threat says Dr. Shane Dublin, executive director of secondary education.

“Every incident is treated as its own incident and we treat it seriously because we want to make sure that all kids are safe," says Dublin.

“Our administrators do a very good job at number one responding to those threats or weapons when they are brought to their attention and the following through, following the handbook to make sure that we’re treating all those situations very similar," says Dr. Bret Range, executive director of student and school services.

Dr. Range is referring to the part in the handbook that defines threats of violence as the verbal, written or physical communication of a threat. For high school students that commit a first time offense, the discipline is a minimum ten days of out of school suspension plus a review meeting, a second offense would mean the suspension would be more severe.

“I think it gets across that we are weapons free, threat free zone," says Range.

If it doesn’t, some of those students might be referred to the Greene County Juvenile Office where Bill Prince is the chief juvenile officer.

 “On some of those threat cases, you could see anything from let’s put this kid on informal probation, let's put this kid on formal probation, let’s commit this kid to DYS, it sort of depends on each individual kid," says Prince.

Before going to the Division of Youth Services, Prince says that his office works with kids before they get too deep into the juvenile system by referring them to the Diversion Center where family counseling is offered.

 “We will have first time offenders go to the Diversion Center and we don’t even open up a file on them here so they don’t have any sort of formal involvement with the juvenile justice system because what studies tell us is that the more deeply involved a kiddo gets with the juvenile justice system, the more likely it is that they may have negative experiences with law enforcement as an adult," says Prince.

Another reason for the Diversion Center says Prince is to slow down the school to prison pipeline. Educators like Clay Hanna with the Nixa School District believes it starts with keeping kids engaged at school.

“We have an alternative school program. We encourage our students to participate in activities, extracurriculars. We have other intervention type classes in our high school to help those kids that are struggling with their credit to try and catch up," says Hanna.

"I think it starts with relationships, making sure that kids know that we care about them, that we want them to be safe, that we care about their academic and social well being," says Range.

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