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Balance the safety of students

Untie the hands of administrators regarding youths accused of crime

Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

It can be difficult at times to balance the rights of someone accused of a crime and the rights of others to feel safe.

When dealing with schoolchildren, it seems as though scales should weigh more toward the safety of students.

That’s not always the case right now.

We’re not talking about youthful indiscretions such as being caught shoplifting or drinking. Rather, there are students in some districts who are facing charges ranging from aggravated assault to sexual assault.

Unless it happens on school grounds or involves a student or faculty member away from school grounds, there is little that school officials can do under state law.

Except in specific – and pretty severe – circumstances, such as those already mentioned, school districts cannot suspend or expel these students.

Administrators’ hands are essentially bound in too many cases. It’s time Illinois gave administrators the latitude to deal with this concern that other states have.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman has introduced legislation that would allow more leeway for handling such situations.

Hoffman, a Belleville Democrat, proposed the change after a concerned parent brought to his attention that students at Belleville East High School were attending classes with a 17-year-old charged with the sexual assault of a student in December. The teen’s arrest record included two counts of aggravated battery and illegal possession of ammunition from months earlier, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.

While expulsion before conviction seems like an excessive punishment, there should be mechanisms in place that do not force students to fear for their own safety in the interim.

Suspension should be an option at the time serious felonies are alleged, with expulsion coming if the student is convicted.

Other possibilities could include alternative school or home-schooling to help keep an accused student from having to forgo his or her own education.

Out-of-school activities, unfortunately, can have an adverse impact on a school setting. While schools should not be put in the position of trying to replace parental responsibility or given the authority to control students’ actions outside of the classroom, they should have the ability to review cases on an individual basis and do what is best for the majority of the students, staff, and faculty.

We hope lawmakers see the differences between the two and take action to protect the rights of all involved.

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